Archive for the ‘Yoga’ Category

PostHeaderIcon Meditations and Tips for Emotional Eating

Photo by Tamas Pap on Unsplash

Mindfulness

Let’s face it. Most of us know how to lose those unwanted pounds. We have to change how we eat. We have to shift our habits We know those cookies and that ice cream won’t help us lose weight but why do we eat it? Well, humans aren’t as rational as we think we are. We’re emotional and eating is often an emotional act. And yes, this has been a stressful year.

Recent studies on psychology point to one personality trait that is most successful in helping people lose weight and maintain it. This trait is awareness or mindfulness, a trait we strive for in our yoga practice, but what does it mean?

Thich Nhat Hanh once said:

“When I hold a piece of bread, I look at it, and sometimes I smile at it. The piece of bread is an ambassador of the cosmos offering nourishment and support. Looking deeply into the piece of bread, I see the sunshine, the clouds, the great earth. Without the sunshine, no wheat can grow. Without the clouds, there is no rain for the wheat to grow. Without the great earth, nothing can grow. That is why the piece of bread that I hold in my hand is a wonder of life. It is there for all of us. We have to be there for it.

“Eat with gratitude. And when you put the piece of bread into your mouth, chew only your bread and not your projects, worries, fears or anger. This is the practice of mindfulness. You chew mindfully and know that you are chewing the bread, the wonderful nourishment of life. This brings you freedom and joy. Eat every morsel of your breakfast like that, not allowing yourself to be carried away from the experience of eating. This is a training.”

Breaking Childhood Patterns

Much of how we eat can stem from how we were raised. Some of us were given foods as a reward or punishment and the food represents our failures and our achievements. Unhealthy treats may be something we feel entitled to if we think we are acting in accordance with society’s laws. Food symbolizes issues that have nothing to do with health.

If we come from a place of poverty, we might want to eat any type of food as long as we can get it. It doesn’t matter the quality of the food. Sometimes we’re taught to eat everything even if we are no longer hungry for fear that there might not be food tomorrow. However, if you are over weight, this is not a good habit. The food will keep getting stored as fat. These mindsets happen beneath our conscious awareness. By bringing our mind to the present moment and really appreciating what is right in front of us, we can change these habits.

I suggest thinking like Thich Nhat Hanh, when we go grocery shopping or when we read a menu at a restaurant. Look at the food. Take a moment to reflect on what its made of. Look at the ingredients. When you by a fresh vegetable, reflect on how it was grown. Notice the sun and rain that went into the growth of that vegetable. Ask yourself how your body will feel when fresh food is inside you.

When you buy something that is processed, think of all the ingredients that went into the making of the food. Imagine what the preservatives, artificial colors, added sugars and salts will do to your body when it is inside you. Really imagine how those ingredients will make you feel over time. What kind of food do you truly deserve? Are these chemicals, added sugars and fats really a treat? Perhaps its time to change our perception.

Since I became a nutritionist and really started to understand food, I’ve been doing more of this type of meditation and it has helped me a lot. I don’t struggle with my weight like I used too. When I eat fruits, I really relish the hydration I’m getting from it and I am grateful to live in a place that has fresh fruit. Because of this, I have decided to always choose fresh fruit over dried, canned or processed fruit as long as I have that choice.

When we eat out with friends and family, it is time to focus on them. I once new a girl who lost a lot of weight and looked incredible. I knew her for many years as she went to my high school and she never looked so healthy and attractive. I asked her how she did it. I thought she would have some kind of beauty secret. I thought she would tell me she was seeing an alternative doctor. But I’ll never forget what she said. She said that all her life her mother made her feel like food meant love. Because her mother cooked, she had to eat all she could. When she realized that its just food and didn’t represent how she felt about her mother, she was able to lose weight.

I often think about what my friend said. I now realize that when I go out to eat, I don’t have to gorge myself. I can nibble. I can choose small servings and say “no” when offered a lot of food. As an adult, no one can force me to eat or make me feel bad for not eating. They will appreciate it more when I focus more on them than on the food. Once we come to terms with why we see food the way we do, we make huge breakthroughs.

The Regret, Shame, Guilt Eating Cycle

Most of us are aware of the regret, shame guilt cycle. We feel guilt so we eat. We regret eating so we feel guilt. So we eat.

This is a very difficult puzzle to solve but I believe that the solution has a lot to do with self love. When I taught the chakra opening workshop, I addressed the 2nd and 3rd chakra; the chakras of creativity and will power. They are blocked by shame and guilt.

To help us let go of our shame we meditated that we were at the beach and written on the sand are all the horrible things people make us feel about ourselves. It might say, “lazy” or “fat” or so on. Then think of who you were before life has made you feel unworthy. We imagine that we wipe the words away with our feet. Then we watch as the waves come to the shore to wash away the sand. Those negative words no longer exist and they never have because we were the only ones who saw them.

Then, we walk on to see a lovely stone. We take a pick and write on the stone words that describe who we really are, words like, “talented,” “good,” “accomplished,” etc. We inscribe these words permanently on the stone. We become more confident about ourselves and the things we can create. We respect ourselves and others more because of this.

Guilt is another feeling. It’s similar to shame, but unlike shame, guilt is the feeling that we have done something wrong. Shame is a feeling that we, ourselves are bad. The best way to deal with guilt is to have the resolve to tell yourself that you are sorry for what you have done and once you have apologized, resolve to find a way not to make the same mistake again. Being able to do this takes some emotional courage. It means listening to your emotions instead of drowning them with food, drugs or any other addictive activity. But eating our way out of an emotion doesn’t end any cycle because it never addresses the issue.

“When we have a meal in mindfulness, we invest all our being in the present moment and are aware of our food and those who are eating with us. We can cultivate the energy of mindfulness while we walk , while we breathe, while we work, while we wash the dishes or wash our clothes. A few days practicing like this can increase the energy of mindfulness in you and that energy will help you, protect you, and give you courage to go back to yourself, to see and embrace what is there in your territory.”

“There are real, painful feelings, strong emotions and troubling perspectives that agitate or make us afraid. With the energy of mindfulness, we can spend time with these difficult feelings without running away. We can embrace them the way a parent embraces a child and say to them, “Darling, I am here for you; I have come back; I’m going to take care of you.” This is what we can do with all our emotions, feelings, and perceptions.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

Overcoming Failure and Obstacles

A few years ago a controversial study was released that showed that positive visualization doesn’t always lead to the achievement of goals. This contradicted other studies that visualizing success leads to success. But it isn’t that simple. Visualizing that you lose weight is a wonderful fantasy that you may or may not achieve but there is one visualization that works better than any other.

Its when we visualize overcoming failure and obstacles that we are most likely to succeed. For example, I had a client who succeeded in losing 10 lbs. while training with me but her goal was to lose 10 more. She knew that whenever she goes to a party she over eats and gains weight, so we went over what she should do when she attended the party that weekend so she would not regress on her goals. We decided that she would not eat before the party, stay away from the food table and sip on a lot of water. Because she planned ahead of time, she was able to avoid inevitable failure.

So, for the final meditation, visualize something that always causes you to fall back on your healthy habits. Perhaps its stress at work, a party, or lack of time. Think about this obstacle before it happens and create a plan on how you will deal with it. This usually means planning how to make your meals, where to eat and what to buy ahead of time so we are driven by mindfulness and not by subconscious drives.

I hope these tips help end the cycle of emotional eating and help to bring some clarity and health to your day.

“Our minds create everything. The majestic mountaintop, brilliant with snow, is in you yourself when you contemplate it. Its existence depends on your awareness… The sights and sounds of the world are not your enemies. your enemy is forgetfulness, the absence of mindfulness. –Thich Nhat Hanh

Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

More blogs on mindful eating:

PostHeaderIcon How to Cure Neck/Shoulder and Lower Back Pain Quickly

This is one of the most successful, yet simple mobility exercises for healing hunched shoulders, neck pain and lower back pain all at once. I can’t tell you how many people it has helped, including me.

The lower back will bend backwards in order to move your arms to the side or up if you lack shoulder mobility. Tightening the core can prevent this, while at the same time strengthening the transverse abdominal and correcting lower back compression. This also gradually stretches the shoulders for optimal alignment.

Also, if you feel pain while doing this correctly, use a massage ball to role out those areas against the wall or on the floor.

Here is the video:

PostHeaderIcon Why Does My Neck Hurt When I do Crunches?

For people who are not strong in their core, activating abdominal muscles may not happen automatically. For these people, you need to be taught how to do a proper crunch step by step, starting with proper core activation.

Core activation is important for protecting the spine from injury any time you move or carry something. Your abdominals are also responsible for keeping your internal organs from bulging out. A hernia (disorder where the intestines push through the weak parts of your abdominals) can be prevented with the right kind of core strengthening.

Please watch this short video on how to activate your core and crunch from your abdominals, not your neck. You can check out the link here:

PostHeaderIcon Recovery–Why Corpse Pose (Shavasana)

When taking care of ourselves, we often become obsessed with punishment. No pain, no gain right? We know that stress will develop us and make us stronger, but we often forget that recovery is equally important in fitness.

Stress breaks down the body. Recovery rebuilds the body, creating larger muscles, more blood vessels, greater flexibility and more mitochondria in the cells. Without recovery, we are just breaking ourselves down, making ourselves weak, fatigued or injured. There is a a lot science behind this phenomenon.

Part of recovery is getting enough sleep, which I’ve blogged about in the past: https://heroestraining.com/?p=694

Breathing properly also helps with recovery as oxygen plays a huge roll in providing us the energy we need to grow and survive. You can read more about breathing here:https://heroestraining.com/?p=318

Eating proper foods at the right time also help with recovery as food is the fuel that energizes and repairs us. https://heroestraining.com/?p=1284

On top of that, merely learning how and when to relax can not only aid in fitness, but can reduce anxiety, tension and cardiovascular disease.

No other yoga pose symbolizes the many benefits of recovery more than Shavasana or corpse pose. This pose is loved by some and dreaded by others. Today, I’d like to explore what makes this pose so important at the end of a yoga class and why some choose to avoid it altogether.

The Posture (Asana)

Corpse pose is very simple. You lie on your back in a neutral position and do nothing. If you have back problems or tight hip flexors, it might feel better to bend the knees or put a pillow under the knees. If you have kyphosis or hunched shoulders, it might feel better to put a pillow under your head. If you are further along in your pregnancy, you may have to lie on your side. Either way, get comfortable.

This pose is traditionally held for five to ten minutes at the end of a yoga class. Seasoned yogi’s can stay in this pose for as long as they desire. Master yogi’s use this pose to help them reach Samandhi, or a state of oneness with the universe. Some yogis practice this pose in order to overcome the fear of death.

While the physicality of the pose is very simple, there are many underlying characteristics that make some people uncomfortable, especially if you were taught that lying down and doing nothing is only for the lazy who have nothing better to do.

Why Shavasana?

We’re just lying there. What’s so important about that? So many people just don’t understand the purpose of corpse pose. Yet, if shavasana is so meaningless, why does almost every style of yoga implement a mandatory corpse pose at the end of every class?

One of the best reasons for performing shavasana is to heal and prevent injuries. The best explanation of this was given to me by a great massage therapist who was explaining the role of fascia. Fascia is the connective tissue that sticks everything together. It sticks muscle to other muscle, bone and skin. It surrounds our organs, nerves and blood vessels. There are thick tissues of fascia that travel through our bodies, such as the thoracolumbar fascia that travels down the entire back and into the buttocks, connecting and protecting all the points in our body.

Tons of research is being done on fascia which is changing how we perceive fitness. It’s not just about strengthening bones and muscle anymore. It’s about healthy fascia that functions better.

Our fascia is full of nerves. It can tighten and relax. It can be trained to move in many directions or to become stiff and hard so it can’t move at all.

Whenever we feel stress or injury, our fascia can harden or get inflamed, causing symptoms such as frozen shoulder, whip lash or muscle knots. Essentially, it turns into a splint or a cast so we can no longer move the muscles it surrounds. While this is a rational survival mechanism to protect ourselves, when the facia overreacts it can cause lack of blood flow and flexibility, slowing down the healing process. There is a psychological element at play as well. If the body suspects future trauma, the fascia can react with tightness years after the injury has healed

I was told that if you get into a car accident, face some other kind of trauma or feel tremendous pain, the best thing you can do is lie down and do nothing. Let your body be vulnerable. Let it know that you are not in a dangerous situation and the body won’t seize from the stress. So long as the body feels it is in danger, it will harden. The healing process doesn’t start until we finally relax.

One of the biggest reasons our fascia may harden is because we over stretched. While I always advise people not to force a stretch in yoga class, it can still happen. Our connective tissue reacts to this by hardening itself, creating that natural splint. In case of overstretching, shavasana is applied at the end of a yoga class to help alleviate this reaction.

Many people start a yoga practice due to past injuries or pain. Sometimes they are recovering from real trauma like a surgery or illness. Other times, they realize that they have been over training which has led to muscle or joint pain. Pain and tension is felt most by those of us who can’t relax. When it’s time for corpse pose, these type A personalities stress that they really should be doing something. Shouldn’t I be stretching my pain or rolling it out? What they don’t realize is the best thing they can do for themselves is relax. We do an hour or two of yoga in order to align our bodies so we can finally reach that state of relaxation, clarity and healing.

Sometimes mental stress is all that is needed to harden the fascia. Our nerves don’t always know the difference between physical and emotional trauma. Shavasana helps us to ease this stress. Allowing ourselves to just melt into the mat is one way to let the body and mind know that things will be okay.

But what if I can’t stop thinking?

Some people hate Shavasana because they can’t stop thinking. In my opinion, not thinking is not a requirement of shavasana. The idea is to physically do nothing so that nothing is distracting you from what is important.

How many times do we put off making the right decision or having to find a solution to a problem by always giving ourselves something else to do? When we’re in Shavasana, you can’t do that. You are forced to face your true self. That thought you have been avoiding will manifest and if it does, I believe you should face it. Examine it. Be brave. Remember, meditation isn’t a hiding from reality but a confrontation of reality:https://heroestraining.com/?p=206

Stress, Anxiety and Insomnia

Once, I was taking a heart opening yoga class. While in shavasana, I felt this tremendous amount of grief that I had been harboring for far too long. Tears welled up in my closed eyes and I was finally able to let that grief go and open my heart again.

We live in a time where it’s almost impossible not to be distracted. We are overwhelmed with pop ups, ads and notifications. New media sources are rewiring our brains, changing how we think and interact. This makes a disciplined yoga practice more important and more difficult than ever.

Some of us hide in these distractions. If we are always stimulated by external forces, we don’t have to be comfortable in our own skin. We can avoid facing our dreams, our conflicts and our true selves.

Shavasana is your time to turn it all off and take a vacation from it all. It’s your time to truly connect with who you really are while everyone and everything around you is competing for their influence on you. As scary as that sounds to some, once you take the time to unwind and get comfortable, you’ll wonder why you waited so long to do it. It’s when we take a moment to find clarity that all the answers appear. We all need to take time out of every day to connect with our deepest selves. Remember, if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything:

https://heroestraining.com/?p=438

Sometimes we fall asleep during corpse pose. This only means that you are probably sleep deprived or that you need more rest. As mentioned earlier, some of us forget that we need to recover and this is a good time to connect with what your body truly needs. Rest calms us, which is why we breath and sleep better after yoga.

Fear of Death

One of your favorite sayings is, “I’ll get enough rest when I’m dead.” You suddenly find yourself in corpse pose. That means you’re resting. Is this what its like to be dead? Suddenly, an asana that seemed peaceful starts to create anxiety.

Fear of death may or may not be a conscious thing. Its something we all deal with as we all die eventually. Corpse pose literally means the pose of death. Legend has it that Indian soldiers did corpse pose to help them deal with their fear of death so they could be brave in battle. This is not an easy thing to face, so its understandable why someone would want to skip this pose altogether.

Yet something profound happens when we face our fear of death. The possibility that we will die becomes very real to us. Suddenly, we are more willing to live. We are more grateful for what we have and we are more aware of what is truly important. To me, facing the fear of death means finding a true appreciation for life in all its glory. What is important to you? Don’t put off what you genuinely love because nothing is temporary.

Not all yoga practitioners are warriors. but we can all learn to be brave enough to live a full life. Deep down inside, we are all fighting a hard battle.

Samandhi or Enlightenment

Shavasana can also be called Samandhi which means unification. Some yogis believe it is that acceptance of universal peace that comes right before death. So when they lie still, they are trying to calm their mind so fully that nothing can distract them from reality. They become an embodiment of universal truth. Samandhi is traditionally thought of as the highest and final level of yoga, another reason why its done at the end of the class.

This illustration, is a great example of samandhi. When water is still, you can notice the smallest ripple. A mind full of waves and fluctuations is confused and undisciplined.

Awareness and Respect

Life happens. We can’t always fit a yoga class into our schedules and sometimes we have to leave early. We must realize, however that the tenants of yoga are non-violence, respect and awareness.

If you must leave yoga early, check the time. Go into shavasana on your own, then sneak out quietly with as little disruption as possible. Yoga etiquette dictates that if you leave class early, to do so before the rest of the class has started corpse pose. That way, they don’t have to hear you scrambling for your stuff and shutting the door on your way out while they are doing their best to relax.

Keep in mind that relaxation and being still is very difficult for most people and that any small distraction can frustrate them. Once everything has stopped moving, the slightest noise can sound as loud as a tree falling. The rustling of bags as you get ready to leave can be extremely irritating.

If you have to fidget during corpse pose because that helps you stay calm, I suggest you find an item that makes no noise. Maybe a rubber part of your mat. This way, you are not distracting the rest of the class.

And of course, please keep your cell phones on silent. ;)

With much respect and compassion,

Namaste

In September, I will be doing a workshop on applying the concepts corrective biomechanics to improving yoga poses. This workshop will focus on yoga alignment with more detail than is possible in a regular yoga class. For more information, click below.

Photo credit:
Photo by Amy Treasure on Unsplash

Photo by Hamza Bounaim on Unsplash

Photo by Jen Theodore on Unsplash

Photo by Linus Nylund on Unsplash

PostHeaderIcon But What if my Knees Hurt?

Knee pain can be a daunting obstacle to success in fitness. When my clients complain of knee pain, I try to nip it in the bud right away so they can reach their fitness goals without aggravating this important joint. If an injury gets worse, it can cause setbacks or even force you to stop training. The good news is that knee pain is often just a warning that you might be overtraining or moving incorrectly. If we listen to this warning, we may be able to avoid a real injury and even the need for surgery.

.

In most cases, knee pain is a sign of improper exercise form, tight or weak muscles in the legs (especially the glutes), a weakness in the arches of the feet which can cause the knees to track wrong or a simple sign of overtraining and a need for a short rest.

Weak Arches

When someone tells me that it hurts their knees when they squat, I can tell right away if this is caused from weak arches or “flat feet.” If the knees buckle inward because all of the person’s weight seem to fall to the inside of the feet, this creates tracking problems because the bones are now pushing into the inside of the joint which can create pain and wear in the bones and ligaments. This misalignment, if not corrected, can wear down the cartilage on the inside of the knee joint, causing arthritis. This condition can be sped up if we add load which is why proper form when weightlifting is imperative for longevity.

.

Orthotics can help fix this condition but teaching the client to activate the arches of their feet by being aware of where they shift their weight can help build up the muscles of the feet that help protect the knees. Often, the pain goes away immediately when proper form is taught

If not, there are exercises, stretches and massage techniques that can wake up the muscles of the feet that are not activating.

Weak Hips

The gluteal muscle group (buttocks) are one of the largest muscle groups in the human body and are supposed to be the most powerful. However, our modern sedentary society has changed this. The invention of chairs, beds and toilets have taken away the need to deep squat and lunge out of our lives; and unless we constantly get up and down off the floor, we rarely strengthen and stretch our hips.

This lack of conditioning can leave us with a booty that’s too weak hold up our body weight. This lack of muscle support leads to knee pain. In cases such as this, I have clients do strengthening exercises, like pilates floor work so they can strengthen their hips without having to hold their own body weight.

Clammies are a classic example:

Mule kicks are also great, though you might have to cushion your knees:

After a few weeks, the client has built up enough muscle in their glutes to be able to squat and lunge without knee pain.

Tight Hips or Legs

Tense muscles can be an issue for athletes, runners or people starting a fitness regimen. This is simply a case of overtraining with little stretching or recovery.

Using a foam roller or massage tool to release tightness in the IT band, glutes, quads or calves, along with corrective stretching usually resolves knee pain for people who suffer from overuse stress.

Rest and icing the area also helps as does addressing any muscle imbalances. Is one part of the hip much stronger than the other, leading to it doing all the work? If so, corrective exercise can nip that in the bud.

Here is an example of using the foam roller to relieve tension that can pull on the knee joint.

There are solutions

The good news is there are solutions to most knee problems that do not involve drugs or surgery. After assessing how a person moves , listening carefully to where they feel pain and how they approach their lifestyle, we can find ways to overcome the obstacles that get in the way of being fit, healthy and functional.

Related posts:


photos by:

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

and
Photo by Jan Phoenix on Unsplash

Related Posts:

PostHeaderIcon 5 Unexpected Benefits of Yoga and Meditation for Seniors


By now, most people are aware of the obvious benefits of yoga and meditation. Yoga is good for flexibility, balance, and strength, while both yoga and meditation are hugely beneficial for mental health. These benefits are all particularly useful for seniors, who may struggle to find healthy practices that are safe, adaptive, and accessible. Plus, group yoga classes — which usually include a built-in meditation practice — are free for many seniors. For example, Humana Medicare Advantage plans pay seniors’ way into SilverSneakers fitness programs, which offers yoga sessions, walking groups, water aerobics classes, and more, and many local YMCA centers have free yoga courses for seniors. If these perks aren’t enough to convince you how perfect yoga and meditation are for a senior lifestyle, maybe one of these lesser-known benefits will do the trick.

Good for Stress

According to Harvard Health, as we grow older, our natural stress response can start taking a more dramatic toll on the body. Seniors have a multitude of common stressors, from loneliness to boredom to the loss of friends and spouses. Yoga and meditation cannot make all the stress in your life melt away, but they can help you manage it so you don’t feel the strain as heavily.

Good for Gut Health

We are still discovering the true importance of gut health and how it connects with other systems in our body. Recent research has shown that regular exercise can help keep your gut microbiome healthy, and the gentle movements of yoga are especially perfect for this. Furthermore, yoga’s power to reduce stress is also beneficial for your gut’s health.

Good for Joints

Yoga exercises the whole body, including the joints, making it a great tool for seniors suffering from arthritis and joint pain. Many seniors assume that yoga has too much potential for further injury, but this is not the case. The Arthritis Foundation recommends it as a form of exercise, celebrating its ability to strengthen joints, improve flexibility, and reduce pain.

Good for Bones

Weight training is an effective way of combating osteoporosis, or a weakening of the bones that occurs naturally with age. By the time we are 60, our bones have lost a significant amount of mass, making them more prone to damage. Yoga involves various weight-bearing poses, which allow you to build bone strength in a way that is gentler and more progressive than traditional weight training with dumbbells and gym equipment. However, you do need to be careful; check out the dos and don’ts of yoga for osteoporosis at Yoga U.

Good for the Immune System

Another common consequence of aging is lowered immunity. There are many complex reasons for this, from natural processes to the increased chance of illnesses such as diabetes, which can also weaken the immune system.

Both yoga and meditation shine in this area, due in large part to their relationship with stress. People tend to think of stress as a purely mental problem, but it has significant, tangible effects on our bodies as well. This is because stress triggers a “fight or flight” response that uses up a lot of our body’s energy. What the above studies on yoga and meditation show is that somehow, a mind that is constantly stressed directly leads to a body that struggles to keep up with illnesses and injuries.

For many years, yoga and meditation were associated with alternative medicine — practices that had anecdotal evidence of health benefits, but no science to back it up. However, this is no longer the case. Yoga and meditation have shown promising results for health troubles in every part of the mind and body, including those that tend to disproportionately affect seniors. This is due to their unique combination of physical exercise, mental relaxation, and spiritual awakening — and their ability to bring all three together.

PostHeaderIcon Managing Pain and Injuries

Foods and Supplements That Heal Joints and ArthritisLast September, I hosted my first DIY alignment and pain relief workshop, where I taught some basic corrective exercise concepts to help people with their chronic pain. While self massage and exercise techniques can cure and relieve many muscular weaknesses and pain issues, looking at our lifestyle and what has caused this pain is a must for success. Here are some things to keep in mind:

HABIT AWARENESS:
Chronic pain can often be attributed to overuse injuries. One example of this is running way past your pain threshold until the tendons start to fray, causing knee pain or shin splints. Another example is hunching over a laptop several hours a day causing impingements in the neck. When we overuse muscles without allowing them to recover or move them in a dysfunctional way, overtime, we may start feeling pain.
Corrective exercises are implemented to counter damage caused from unhealthy patterns. However, if you keep doing the things that cause pain, corrective exercise may not be enough, we need to change our dysfunctional habits.

During our workshop, I asked the class to be very aware of their patterns and habits. We are often unaware that what we do everyday adds up to pain. One thing you need to ask yourself is if there is an unhealthy physical pattern you are doing, such as hunching over a desk (steering wheel, texting device etc.), wearing inappropriate shoes, doing an exercise with improper form or working one muscle while neglecting the opposing muscle (ie.building up the chest but not the upper back)?

For tips on proper lifting click here:

General Tips For Proper Lifting

Habit research shows that the best way to be successful is to replace that habit with something else. Ask yourself what you can do to change this habit and visualize yourself doing it. You might have to change the ergonomics of your desk, learn to lean back and put your head on the head rest of your car when you drive or even change your exercise routine. Maybe you just need to make time to rest and recover.

PSYCHOSOMATIC PAIN:

Is there something in your personal life that may be a source of pain (a relationship, job situation or grudge you refuse to forgive?) More often than not, physical pain is just masked psychological pain.

Have you been ignoring it? Can you change your situation?
If not, change your mind set.

Sometimes our pain is just telling us that its about time we change our situation. Is there a career change you have wanted but have been putting off? Are you in a dysfunctional relationship you should have ended long ago? Have you been lying to yourself or someone else and its about time you come clean? Do you have a medical condition you have been ignoring and its about time you get medical help? The solution may be right around the corner but you have unconsciously chosen to live in pain instead.

But if there seems to be no logical solution, research on mindset has shown that simply changing your perspective can relieve mental anguish. For example, believing you are the only one who has trouble fitting in can cause anxiety but when a psychologist started a study that convinced college freshmen that they are not alone in their insecurities, these students did better in school and the drop out rate went down. Our point of view on how damaging stress itself can be can make or break us. Mindfulness meditation experts have found that simply accepting that there is pain can at least ease some of the anxiety that makes the struggle hard. For more information on this research, click here:

Great News About Stress

NUTRITION:

What we eat can build and nourish our body or it can poison it. Are you eating in a way that nourishes your body and mind or are you slowly killing it with a junk food diet? For example if you don’t have enough carbs to fuel an intense workout, your muscles will fatigue which may cause them to use improper form, adding pressure to your joints.

We need adequate protein to repair and build. If you are doing strenuous exercise but not consuming enough protein to build back your muscles, bones and connective tissues, then you are just breaking down your body.

Micronutrient deficiencies can be the cause of pain. For example, muscle cramps can be the result of a vitamin B or D deficiency. It is also the side effect of a lack of minerals such as calcium, magnesium or potassium. If you are not sure about your diet, talk to your doctor about getting tested for vitamin deficiencies. For more on diet, click here:

Foods and Supplements That Heal Joints and Arthritis

The Best Diet for You

APPLY WHAT YOU LEARNED

During the DIY Pain Relief Workshop, we learned how to assess common postural and muscular weaknesses in the body that could be causing pain. We learned self massage techniques, various stretches and other exercises that help to fix these deviations. For example, if your pelvis tilts forward, it can cause lower back and hip pain. Exercise and a change of habit can fix the problem. I encouraged my students to take the one most important thing they learned from the workshop and apply it to their lifestyle.

The DIY workshop covered a lot, so I am having another workshop on this subject in February. We will review the basic tenants of the last workshop and maybe add more exercises for those who have been applying what they learned and want to take it to the next level.

For More information on the next DIY Pain Relief Workshop, click this link:

Special Events

For more information on how to relieve hip pain, click here:

Much a do About the Hips

For information on relieving shoulder pain, click here:

Release Neck and Shoulder Tension

More related articles:

What Pain Has Taught Me

What To Do In Case of an Injury

How I Cured My Muscle Pain

PostHeaderIcon How Discipline (Yoga) Brings Freedom

The literal definition of “Yoga” is “Yoke.” A yoke is the harness that attaches Oxen to the plows that they pull. It is the thing that attaches them to their work. Some define Yoga as work. I think “discipline” is the best translation. The yogis and most of our greatest philosophers believe that discipline is the only thing that can free us from suffering.

Yet how can a harness possibly free us? Well, without the yoke, the oxen are wild and uncontrolled. They fail to benefit us. They will roam the farm, trample the crops and create more damage. If we can’t harness our impulses, they will destroy us.

 

Think of it this way, if you want freedom from your physical limitations or pain, you need to do hatha (physical) yoga. This consists of physical therapy, mindful exercise and proper breathing. All of these actions, if done diligently and habitually have been scientifically proven to reduce pain, increase strength, increase endurance, lower the risk of disease, lengthen one’s life and prevent mental illness. If we want these things, we must discipline ourselves to do our hatha yoga. I will use the term hatha yoga very broadly as I believe that any exercise done with  mindfulness can be seen as hatha yoga.

Without a habitual exercise habit, high blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity, weakness, disease and pain set in. We become a victim of our own lack of discipline.

Look at the most skilled dancers, athletes and acrobats. Its as if they can fly. We often wish we can move with just as much freedom. We forget to account for all the hours of discipline it took to achieve that level of mastery. Athletes of this caliber did not mindlessly move to achieve this level. They have had to focus on every element of their art and use their minds as well.

This brings us to Jnana (mindful) yoga. This is the yoga of knowledge. We must constantly be educating ourselves or fall in the trap of ignorance. Ignorance, our inability to know what is real; can harm our relationships, make us more susceptible to scams and ruin our opportunity for a better life. Disciplining our mind helps us focus which is great for alleviating stress and helping us improve any skill. Lack of knowledge or mindfulness might cause us to act stupidly and do things that we regret which brings me to the next type of discipline or yoga.

Karma (action) yoga teaches us to be mindful of what we do as everything has a consequence. If we want to be free from poverty, we must discipline ourselves to work at a job that pays us well. We must also watch that we aren’t spending more money than what we earn. if we want people to like us, we have to take actions that are kind and not rude. Knowing which actions to takes a certain level or jnana yoga. After all, most people don’t intend on doing harm. Many do it unconsciously.

Karma yoga can go much deeper. Ghandi came up with a method of karma yoga called satyagraha. This was a way of resisting unjust authority without enacting any violence. Ghandi disciplined himself to accept going to jail and even abuse as he worked in his quest to end racism and free India from English rule. When the government wronged him, he did not retaliate in violence, he instead allowed them to victimize him until they they realized their own wrong doing. This path of action was very well thought out and it took a ton of discipline to see it through.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a follower of Ghandi and used this exact same method to end segregation in the U.S., disciplining his people do peaceful protests. They trained themselves never to fight back. As a result, the media was able to record many blacks being abused at the hands of white law enforcement without them fighting back. It made the government look awful, the way they abused peaceful people and it brought sympathy to the blacks, who were once thought of as the barbaric race.

Ghandi was the only one who succeeded in overthrowing a government without having to go to war. This is a tremendous achievement as it taught us that violence isn’t the only answer. MLK used this same method of Karma yoga to bridge the great divide between whites and blacks and to make our laws more just during a time when everyone thought that civil war would break out.

In order to achieve “freedom” from an unjust government, these men had to be extraordinarily disciplined in how they acted and reacted, so disciplined that they didn’t even fear death.

The fourth style of yoga is bhakti (devotional) yoga. This is the yoga of the spirit. Sometimes the only way to overcome great odds is to connect with our own spirituality, whatever that may be for you. Ask anyone who has had to battle addiction or found hope  under extremely trying circumstances. Life can be terribly complicated. We are often plagued with questions we may not have the answer to and we have to rely on a higher power to find them. Whatever your spiritual views, we all have to meditate on our values in order to make sense of our lives. Without our moral foundation, we succumb to our lower selves. This can be a trap that can lead to unhappiness. We can’t always control the slings and arrows that life throws at us but we can control how we respond to it, as Ralph Waldo Emmerson said, “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.”

In the classic Yogic text, “The Bhagvad Gita,” Arjuna was lucky enough to get the advice of Krishna, the human carnation of a Hindu God. Arjuna was very hesitant and unsure of what he was about to do, go to civil war as a last resort against a very corrupt government. Krishna told him that he should freely follow his path. He could do it because he had been practicing yoga. Because he diligently practiced strong physical health, mindfulness, right action and spirituality, he had the tools he needed to make the right choices.

Without discipline, we are lost. We live in a culture where it is so easy to let go of one’s health, to lose touch with one’s loved ones and where the incidence of mental health is skyrocketing out of control. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met who are unhappy and have fallen into terrible physical health because they stopped being mindful of what they were eating or how they managed their lifestyle. I’ve seen people lose their families because they failed to be mindful about what was truly important to them. We have tools such as smart phones to help us sort through our lives yet I’ve seen people become slaves to the very tools that were supposed to free them in the first place. Without mindfulness, yoga and discipline, we become slaves to our own culture. Freedom is possible, but it takes diligent practice and great discipline.

If you can’t come up with a resolution this year, a good idea is to look at the different paths of yoga practice. Are you still mindful about your physical health (hatha yoga)? Are you doing your best to keep your mind focused and learning new things (jnana yoga)? Are the actions you take day to day benefiting your life and those in your sphere of influence (karma yoga)? Do your thoughts and actions vibe with your deepest spiritual values (bhakti yoga)?

Someone once said that regardless of your beliefs, the definition of a “spiritual person” is someone who is just trying to be the best they can be. When I teach class, I’m fully aware that everyone is at different skill and fitness levels, but I encourage my students to just to their best. This is why I take some time to be mindful of my practice especially at the end of the year. I’m not the same person I was a few years ago. Every year, I chip away at myself and try to be the best I can be and I’m hoping that this encourages others to do their best as well.

Happy Holidays. Looking forward to an awesome New Year!

If you are interested in learning more about the different paths of yoga or learning more about the deeper philosophies of yoga, check out these blogs:

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

Yoga and the Eight Fold Path

Meditation (A Running Into Reality)

Meditation: THE ILLUMINATED PERCEIVER VS. THE AFFLICTIVE MIND

Demystifying the Chakras (from a hormonal perspective)

 

PostHeaderIcon Great News About Stress

I started reading more about the mindset of stress after hearing about the ground breaking study that interviewed thirty thousand adults. They were asked how much stress they had and if they believed that stress was harmful to their health.

After eight years, the records were checked to see who had died. It turned out that those who were stressed and believed that stress was harmful to them had an increased risk of dying by 43 percent. People who reported high levels of stress but did not think stress was harmful had no increase in mortality. In fact, they had the lowest risk of death of anyone in the study, even lower than those who reported very little stress.

You can read more about this study here:

Does the Perception that Stress Affects Health Matter? The Association with Health and Mortality

As you may already know, I’m always reading the latest findings on health and fitness. One subject that has greatly interested me is that of the new field of epigenetics, the science of how our environment affects and changes our genes. I became interested in telomeres, repeating segments of non coding DNA that live at the ends of cells. They wear down as cells divide. Scientists are saying that these telomeres are a great indicator of health and how long one will live. If they are short and worn down, it is a sign of deterioration. I read a whole book on this phenomena called “The Telomere Affect” by Elizabeth Blackburn PhD and Elissa Epel PhD. I learned from this book that the worst thing one can do to one’s telomeres is to be “stressed,” but their research also found that those who stressed about stress being bad for them were in far worse shape than those who had a “challenge” mentality. Those who responded to life’s hardships with an attitude to tackle it as a challenge had longer telomeres than those who reacted with fear and worry.

In Kelly McGonigal, PhD’s book, “The Upside of Stress,” she explains that two hormones can be released when faced with a “stressful” situation: Cortisol and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA). While both hormones are released by the adrenal glands, they serve different roles. Cortisol helps turn sugar and fat into energy but also suppresses biological functions such as digestion, reproduction and growth. DHEA, on the other hand, helps your brain grow stronger from the stressful experiences. It also counters some of the effects of cortisol. It speeds up wound repair and enhances immune function. The ratio of these two hormones can influence the long-term consequences of stress.

For example, Alia Crum, PhD, psychology and mindset expert, conducted an experiment in which half the participants were shown a video that opened with the message, “Most people think that stress is negative… but actually research shows that stress is enhancing.”  The other participants were shown a video that started with, “Most people know that stress is negative… but research shows that stress is even more debilitating than you expect.” Both videos cited real research, so in this sense they were both true. But each video was designed to activate a specific perception of stress.

Next, the participants were put through a mock interview wherein the people they were supposed to impress acted very indifferent and critical. After this ordeal, saliva samples were taken. While all the subjects had a similar rise in cortisol levels, those who had watched the positive stress video had higher levels of DHEA, which has been linked to reduce the risk of anxiety, depression, heart disease, neurodegeneration and other diseases we typically think of as stress-related.

I was excited when I read about this experiment because it gave physical evidence of why our mindset is so powerful, something I have always encouraged in my students. Other studies have confirmed this idea such as research that hanging on to stereotypes about aging can effect older adults’ behaviors, IQ and even their health; a phenomenon known as ‘age-based stereotype threat’ (ABST).

You can read more about that here:

Old Age And Stereotypes

The wonderful thing about Crum’s experiment is that it shows that our environment can immediately change our mindset which can immediately change our biology. It’s as easy as choosing which video to watch.

According to Kelly McGonigal, the best definition of “stress” is that which arises when something you care about is at stake. Her book and many other studies points to the fact that people who say they experience a lot of stress have more meaningful lives. You don’t stress about things you could care less about. So, people who have a positive stress mindset, the kind that actually contributes to better health, believe in finding meaning in their stress and learning to grow from it. This doesn’t mean they sugar coat the horrible things that happen to them. It simply means that they try to use their experiences to make them better people. We all know people who have been destroyed from horrible circumstances, but we’ve also seen people who have grown from them and have used these situations to find strength, resourcefulness and empathy for others in the same situation.

I also learned that it’s usually better to capitalize on that fight and flight response. It’s there to make you perform better. More research shows that trying to calm down when your blood is racing usually doesn’t work. But what you can do is tell yourself that this is a good thing. Use that surge in hormones to help you score that goal, ace that test or wow that audience.

To quote McGonigal, “We get stressed when our goals are on the line, so we take action. We get stressed when our values are threatened, so we defend them. We get stressed when we need courage. We get stressed so we can connect with others. We get stressed so that we will learn from our mistakes. The stress response is more than a basic survival instinct. It is built into how humans operate, how we relate to one another and how we navigate our place in the world. When you understand this, the stress response is no longer something to be feared. It is something to be appreciated, harnessed, and even trusted.”

So what else can we do to create a mindset that helps stress work for our health instead of against it?

Limit the amount of news you watch. According to a major U.S. survey, exposure to the news was one of the most commonly reported source of daily stress. 40 percent of those who reported high levels of stress said watching, reading or listening to the news was a major contributor. This increases a sense of hopelessness. Studies also show that it creates post traumatic stress disorder in the viewer, whether they witnessed the situation being aired or not.

Be open about your problems and look to others for help. Try to reject the viewpoint that other people are a source of stress. When we isolate ourselves from others, we take away many coping mechanisms like realizing that someone else may have been in a similar situation. It also takes away our ability to share and help those in need. Research has shown that helping others is actually a great stress reliever as it counters that feeling of hopelessness and gives our life purpose.

Find time to exercise. Of course I would add this as my final thought. I’m a fitness professional. Lol! But everything I study points to the fact that exercise is that magic pill, if done properly and at the right amount. It also gives us time to unwind or clear our minds. When I go to the local Y or teach a yoga class, it also gives me a sense of community. This past year, there were two deaths in my family. During these times, it was very difficult for me to come to class and motivate others but when I expressed the fact that I had to take some time off to be at funerals or memorials, some students and colleagues shared similar stories with me and I realized that I wasn’t alone. So, while I may not be free of stress, my life is full of meaning. Thank you to all of my students, followers and clients for sharing this journey with me, and I hope you have a wonderful holiday season.

Btw, this December is Live Healthy month at the Porter Ranch library. I will be teaching a pilates class on Saturday December 8 at 1:30pm. This event is free and open to the public. For more information, click here:

Special Events

If you enjoyed this blog and would like to read more about mindset and belief, here is my very first blog ever written about mindset:

Empowering and Disempowering Beliefs

For more motivation on exercise, the magic pill, click here:

The Limitless Pill

My thanksgiving love blog to all my students who give my life so much meaning:

You Inspire Me

PostHeaderIcon How I Cured My Muscle and Joint Pain

I always loved fitness, but the one thing that motivated me to become a professional more than anything else was pain. I remember my physical therapist telling me that I was too young to have back pain and if I wasn’t careful, my spine would just keep getting damaged. He didn’t tell me what being careful entailed. Does being careful mean staying in bed and never running again or lifting my baby boy again? I loved to run and I honestly wondered if I would ever be able to do it ever again.

I had no idea what was causing the pain, but having a background in mindfulness made me look back at all the times in my life when my back was healthy. Coincidentally, these were the times that I was consistently fit. The times when my back was in the worst shape were the times when I was the least fit or had a sit down job. Since all other health options weren’t working, I decided to get fit again. This was not easy. I had a bad back. I started by just doing my physical therapy and some low impact cardio like walking or light aerobics. After a while, the pain subsided but it still came and went. It turned out I had two degenerated discs in my lower back. The best advice anyone could give me was a physical therapist who was also a pilates instructor. She told me to keep moving and stay fit. She said if I wasn’t opting for surgery, my best bet was to strengthen the muscles that protect my spine.

What made the back pain permanently vanish? Well, that’s quite a journey. I became a fitness expert. I learned how muscles and bones worked. I learned that there were specific muscles in my core, hips and even shoulders that weren’t working right. For example, my tight shoulders caused me to have to overly arch my back in order to stand up straight. I can now spot this in my clients or students instinctively. Sure, I was told I had degenerated discs in my lumbar spine but re-establishing mobility in my tight shoulders took a huge burden off my back.

Some muscles of my hips were much more flexible or stronger than others. In fact, it turned out I had a very strong core but was overcompensating, using my back to do all the work because I had weaknesses in my legs and butt. My core wasn’t weak. It was overburdened by taking all the weight my hips couldn’t bare. I also had very tight hip flexors which pulled on my back.

I want to share this with you because I’ve seen a trend in our health care system. Insurance companies only pay therapists to work on the “one” body part that needs it. So, if your back is in pain because you have tight shoulders, you’ll get a lot of therapy for your lower back when you should be opening your shoulders. This is only an example. My knowledge in corrective exercise has taught me that it could be your feet causing pain in your knees, hips or even back, yet our health system is structured to focus on one muscle group at a time.

I was surprised when my son’s pediatrician told me that they don’t refer out people with pronated or “flat” feet to physical therapists. They just suggest orthotics. When I became a corrective exercise specialist, I learned how to re-build the arches of the foot. The reason why feet go flat is because they are out of shape. Walking in shoes and on flat surfaces with no variety has caused the arches of our feet to atrophy. Much like sitting in chairs all day can atrophy the muscles of our back, most of our chronic muscle pain is due to inactivity more than anything. Wearing special shoes or a back brace is like leaning on a cructh. You’re relying on an external object to make up for your own weakness. There are exercises you can do to fix muscular skelatal problems.

Unfortunately, like obesity, the greatest cure can’t be taken overnight. If you have surgery, it might cure a skeletal issue but if you don’t keep your muscles strong, that part of your body will just get re-injured. If you use liposuction to suck out your fat, but continue to eat more than you are burning, that fat will creep back on. The only pharmaceutical drugs prescribed to lose weight only work along with “diet and exercise”. We can cleanse the damage we do to our heart, blood and organs by detoxing on a high vegetable diet, but if we go back to our old way of eating, those problems come right back. We need to start getting real about how we maintain our health.

These days I’m back to doing all the things I love. I run, practice martial arts, jump and hike. But I also keep up a steady practice of muscle strengthening and stretching. The frailty of old age happens when we lose muscle and bone but all of this can be prevented if we take proper care of ourselves. My job requires me to be in top athletic condition and I sometimes get little tweeks in my knees, or other joints, but the good news is that I know what to do if these obstacles arise and they are usually ironed out in a few days. I’m currently in the best shape of my life because I’ve taken the time to address my weaknesses and work out smart.

A lot of people come to me after class, asking about their aches and pains, so I’m having a workshop specifically on corrective exercise in September. If you are interested in taking this workshop, click here for more info.

Special Events