Archive for the ‘Motivational’ Category

PostHeaderIcon Be the Peer

I was reading the biography of Nelson Mandela, “Long Walk to Freedom.” There was a part in the book when he was an outlaw. He snuck out of the country to go to a meeting with other political groups who were fighting for equality in Africa.

He said that he felt a strange sensation. He saw that the pilot was black. He actually felt like he shouldn’t trust a black pilot. He had to stop himself and realize that even he, a lawyer who put every ounce of his being into freeing blacks from oppression was hypnotized by the negative conditioning of his culture. Blacks weren’t inferior, it was their oppressors who brainwashed them to believe it.

Hold on a second, Nelson Mandela, one of the most impenetrable persons who ever lived, someone who went to jail for years and came out being the president of the country that tried to oppress him, almost fell into the negative mentality that his people were inferior?

I had to ask myself if I have fallen into this trap, besides my ideals and commitment to mindfulness, and maybe I have here and there. I was told being a girl means I should never lift heavy weights or exert myself too much. At a ripe age of 8 or 9, I was told I could never be a dancer. When I hurt my back, I was told I may never run again. I was told I could never spin a quan dao (ancient kung fu weapon) behind my back because I’m lacking fingers. I was also told I could never do a pull up.

What saved me from succumbing to these attitudes of inferiority was something my father once told me. He told me to “be the peer.” He said that a lot to my brothers and me growing up. We didn’t really understand what he meant until we were older because the word “peer” wasn’t used much where we grew up in Australia at that time. So my older brother thought he said to be the “pear” and that he just had a strong accent.

Photo by ŞULE MAKAROĞLU on Unsplash

But as we got older he started to emphasize the meaning of this term. He said that no one ever pressured him to do anything growing up. Yes, he was a bad boy but he took responsibility for everything he did. He was never swayed to do anything bad. If he did something bad, it was because he wanted to. He was the one who pressured his friends to do things like go to bars or strip clubs. He was the peer, not them.

Granted, my father is not perfect but what he said resonated with me. Whatever you do, take full responsibility for it. Don’t do something just because your friends made you do it. He was telling us to be a leader not a follower. If we do something wrong, we can’t blame others for it because we are the “peer” not them.

When I looked back at everything I accomplished in life and every mistake I made, I take full responsibility. I wanted to do those things. Many of the things I’ve done (like succeed in doing pull ups) I was told could not be done but I didn’t listen. I was pressured to do unhealthy things too, like smoke. I was 7 years old when my friends stole their dad’s cigarettes and started lighting up. I was the only one who didn’t do it, even though my dad smoked two packs a day at the time. But seeing how dependent he was on this bad habit made me wonder why my friends wanted to do such a thing.

They wanted to be like their parents. I knew better. Years later, I got to witness the hell my father went through in the process of quitting the habit. “Don’t be like me” he’d often say, especially when it came to drinking and smoking. “Do what you know is right for yourself.” This is not an easy way to raise a child, not by example or by demands but by teaching me to think and take responsibility. It made me into a very sophisticated individual who questioned everything I did. It made me always ask myself if what I was doing was right, even if it was something everyone else was doing.

My dad also made life very difficult for me. He told me I couldn’t do many things (mostly because of my gender) which frustrated me. But one day he said that he wanted to make things hard because life was hard. He didn’t want me to back down just because there was an obstacle in my way. There are a lot of things I resented growing up, about the way I was raised. Much of how I was raised could never be understood at the time, but now I understand how these tough lessons made me what I am now.

Fighting for the right to be who I am took an emotional toll growing up, so when I have to stand up for myself as an adult, its not anywhere near as difficult as what I had to go through to stand up against my father. I don’t take for granted the fact that there will be obstacles and I don’t look to others to give me validation whenever I choose to do something. Most people don’t even try to talk me out of anything because they know I’ll do whatever I want anyway.

Why am I writing about this now? Because its a scientific fact that most people go with the crowd. Overweight people tend to be more overweight when they spend their time with other overweight people. We eat, drink, and take on the lifestyle of the people around us. Our culture tries to control our interests and our behavior through the media and we often blame society, our family, our friends or our jobs for our own short comings. But if this is so, there is no hope. That’s like saying that if all your friends are fat, you can never be thin and toned so just give up. But that’s not true. There will always be outliers.

If your family succumbs to an unhealthy lifestyle and you don’t want to be like them, you can’t just disown your own family. I don’t think that’s right, but you can take on the attitude of being the peer.

Here’s an example: My husband was gaining a lot of fat because he had an office job where people brought donuts and other unhealthy foods to work. He just didn’t want to keep gaining weight so he started bringing vegetables to work and making his own salads at the work kitchen. He lost 20 pounds and his co-workers were so impressed by the results, they started changing their diet as well. This is what my dad meant by “be the peer.” Whether its right or wrong, what you do should influence others and not the other way around. My husband wasn’t trying to be a leader. He was just doing what was right for himself.

Another example is Old Age Stereotype Bias and the fact that negative stereotypes about aging have proven to have negative affects on people’s lifestyle, cognitive ability and overall health. Knowing this, I have created my own bias about aging, one that has served me well. My belief is that as I get older, I get better because I continue to learn and experience more. This leads to greater skill and wisdom. Cultures that have this stereotype tend to have older populations that are happier, healthier and live longer.

When I train older adults, I try to influence this positive attitude on them, rather than letting their negative biases about aging influence me. The result is that my older clients are improving, not regressing. Their balance has improved, their bones and posture has strengthened and their quality of life is better. Rather than deteriorating, they have gotten better. Also, I choose to be influenced by the many fit and healthy seniors I have worked with over the years. They have taught me that you can be older and still be very fit.

You can read more studies on health and aging stereotypes here:

https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jger/2015/954027/

In conclusion, I just want to say happy belated father’s day to all the dad’s out there. And happy independence day. Embrace your individuality. Remember that your attitudes and beliefs make you what you are. Society will always try to put you down with their stereotypes and negative beliefs but you don’t have to be influenced by it. You be the influencer.

“Be the peer,” Rolando David Morales (my dad)

For other paradigm shifting motivational blogs, check out

Due to the quarantine, the average person gained about 20 lbs. in the past 2 years. So just updated my blog on calorie burning for those of you who need to burn off that excess fat:

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 Remember That Something Inside you is Stronger Than Your Circumstances

And Happy Holidays!

The holidays are coming up as we reach the end of what some would call the worst year ever! For this holiday season, I wish you peace and good health.

The fitness industry has taken one of the hardest hits from the lockdowns and quarantines. I have not been able to return to my jobs as the facilities have been closed due to government sanctions. Plus, dumbells and weights have tripled in price! Still I know that my industry is not alone. Restaurants, live events, retail and many other businesses have been shut down and or forced to spend much more for very little profit.

I do believe that one of the things that has kept me going is the knowledge that there is something deep inside me that is greater than my circumstances. This is why at the end of each workout, I encourage everyone to reach deep inside and find that bit of energy that helps us pull all the way through. Endurance is a strong mark of fitness and the greatest show of mental strength. As we reach the home stretch of this pandemic, tap into that one thing that keeps you going.

This something is what has always gotten me by during tough times. And I am always taking the time to tap into this strength and keep it going. Much of my reason for staying fit has to do with keeping my core strong. By the term “core”, I don’t mean my abdominals or torso muscles. I mean my inner spirit.

Exercise is my meditation. Sometimes, just going for a run or a walk, or hitting the bag helps me work through my thoughts so I can make the right decisions.

Strength training teaches focus, control and will power. I focus on my form and what my body is doing. It also keeps me strong and healthy so I’m able to handle the slings and arrows of fortune.

Yoga and stretching helps me relax my mind and body. it brings me softness and peace when I need to unwind and de-stress. It also teaches me to stay flexible and go with the flow when I am faced with events I can’t control.

Its because I practice these things that I can be strong for others.

Another thing that I have learned is how much I love what I do and how devastated I was when I realized I couldn’t be with you guys in person anymore. It has made me grateful for what I have. I promise that when this is all over, I will be more appreciative than ever of my students, my clients and for the entire wellness community for giving me the opportunity to do what I love.

I am also aware that this year has been very mixed for many of you. Many of you have confided that you have had to deal with illness or death. You have had anxiety, depression, money problems and difficulties finding ways to stay in shape and remain devoted to your health. While others have found the time to focus on things you never had the opportunity to before and really discover more about yourselves.

I just want you to know that I think about you and pray for you. I know we are all fighting some very hard battles.

The holidays this year will be much quieter and less about partying, crowded malls and travel. Think of it as an opportunity to focus on what is truly important to you and to stay with the true spirit of love, family, friends and giving.

With all my love, I want to say I miss you. I hope you are well, and please remember that there is something deep inside you that is stronger than your circumstances

I am still teaching online classes for those who are interested. It’s also a good opportunity to work out with me if you are no longer in the area. You can view the schedule on this page:

I am also teaching private personal training on zoom or skype.

If you are up for it, I have a studio where I can teach privates. I wipe everything with disinfectant and wear a mask. We would be the only one’s in the studio, though it does have security surveillance. I’m also willing to do outdoor personal training now that the weather is cooler.

I also picked up a job teaching outdoors at the Braemar country club in Tarzana. I’ve been getting about 1 or 2 people per class but the view is breathtaking. Feel free to check it out if you’re in the area.

I also have some full length yoga and pilates videos for purchase if you are interested.

Feel free to email me if you have any questions at: rhea.morales@gmail.com

PostHeaderIcon 14 Life Lessons Martial Arts Has Taught Me

I started studying martial arts 25 years ago and what I learned strengthened me, not only physically but spiritually as well. Furthermore, martial arts is super cool. To those of us who practice it, its a way of life and a great source of energy and play

Much of my life can be compared to the movie “Kung Fu Panda” or “Karate Kid”, but I think many of the mystical aspects are simply the result of understanding its principles or advanced training. I’ve applied its broad philosophies to all aspects of my life.

I am always reminded that it is an “art” and like all arts, how we approach and practice will grow and change as we age and mature. Here are some lessons I have learned in my incredible journey, seeking the best masters wherever I roamed.

Time and Effort:

My first lessons in martial arts were in Shoa Lin kung fu. The literal definition of “kung” is “effort” and the definition of “fu” is “time spent.” The best translation of this term is “time and effort.”

My First teacher used that term constantly and as I pursued other ambitions over my life, I realized just how important these words are. Time is interwoven with effort like a perfect soul mate. In movies, we often see a hero who goes through a short boot camp and this makes him unbeatable, but I’ve learned that this is not the formula for champions. Time is absolutely necessary.

I’ve tested it. I once thought I could train for a few months and have what it takes to be a winning cage fighter until I realized that I’d be going against people who trained every day since they were little kids.

Can you imagine trying to build five inches of muscle on your bicep in only two weeks? Or going from Kindergarten to Med school in only three years? The body and mind adapt slowly over-time so get into the habit of making long term goals and enjoying the journey.

Meditation is Powerful:

Shoa Lin kung fu emphasized meditation and breath work. The class often started with us facing the wall and doing nothing for a few minutes. This practice helped me hone in with how I was feeling; whether or not I could focus, or if my mind was racing.

We always fought better and had more focused energy after meditating.

It was my first taste of mindfulness, a lesson that has helped me in every aspect of life.

For more information on the benefits of meditation, click here:

Meditation (A Running Into Reality)

Understand Nature:

Shoa Lin emphasized animal styles. We learned how to move like cranes, tigers, eagles. In the beginning I was trained to stand in a horse stance (squat) or low bow stance (similar to a yoga warrior stance) in order to feel rooted to the earth.

Bruce Lee said to be like water because it is powerful and flexible.

Master Jeff Jedds, says to be like wind because it can move water, air and even earth without being seen.

During the Lua (Hawaiian Martial Arts) seminars, I learned to move like sharks, birds or dolphins.

Mohammad Ali used to say, “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”

Tai chi, like yoga, emphasizes physics and how force and power are manipulated.

I have learned to study nature in all its glory, to watch how the wind moves the water and how the water moves the earth, to understand the structure of my body and how it adapts to the structure of the earth.

Power, Energy, Chi and Alignment:

When we were young, my brother and I used to hit each other’s abdomen for fun. One day, he hit me in such a way that I fell in pain. I didn’t feel my body bruise from the outside. It felt as if he sent something shooting straight into my intestines. I asked him what he did. He showed me that he didn’t hit hard at all. He actually hit me softly, but he focused on the alignment he learned in tai chi class.

This started my fascination with how alignment increases power. I realized that force didn’t come from strain but from proper posture. If the whole body is moving correctly in one piece, we have more energy, move more efficiently, and can unleash more strength with less stress.

Eventually, I moved to New York and immersed myself in work and performing arts. I could no longer go to Kung Fu class, but I tried to practice what I could on my own. My days at the conservatory introduced me to The Alexander Technique, The Linklater Method, Pilates and Yoga. Years later, I became a Personal Trainer. I continued my education in alignment by getting accredited in Biomechanics and other modalities that focus on correct posture. I can write a million books on this subject, but it all got started in my martial arts roots.

This month, I’ll be teaching a workshop on chi, alignment and energy work. For more information, click here:

Chi Kung/Yoga Workshop

It is the best way to connect with your culture and ancestors:

My first experience with traditional martial arts taught me history. I had to understand why the ancient techniques were developed and in doing so, I learned about wars, dynasties, culture and tradition.

I learned just how complex the art of war is. I’ve learned that starting a battle has grave consequences and that fighting just to defend one’s ego is one of he dumbest reason to start a battle. Humanity has a long history of destruction, murder and bloodshed and one can’t help but see the foolishness in someone who chooses fighting above all other solutions.

Now that I’m practicing Filipino martial arts,  I learned that the Filipino Guerilla fighters defeated Magellan and that they changed the face of western boxing.

Through my new friends, I’ve met people who have preserved the culture of their people by learning the fighting styles. One of these people is Michelle Manu, who has dedicated her life to learning authentic Lua (Hawaiian Martial Arts). Not only did I learn some bad ass moves, but I learned how her people think, how the Hawaiian families interact, the martial art roots of the Hula dance and how they perceive their natural environment.

Had these lessons not been passed down through a martial arts lineage, this history would be lost to foreign invaders and the intrusion of western culture.

Michelle Manu will be doing a workshop on Lua in May. More information here:

The Ancient Hawaiian Martial Art, Lua

A fight’s a fight

At some point in my life, I wanted to test myself to see if I really was as good as I thought I could be. I made the choice to try competitive cage fighting. My coach, Pat King, is a Brazilian Jujitsu blackbelt who trained directly under champion Royce Gracie. One of the things I find myself repeating are his words, “a fight’s a fight.”

This phrase can mean so many things. But mainly, what he tried to instill in me is; in a real fight, nobody cares what rank you are or how experienced you are. It isn’t choreographed and no one is going to let you get away with being sloppy out on the streets. Once you are in a fight, all they want to do is destroy you. There are no rules in war. There is no cheating. The opponent might poke your eye, pull out a weapon or two or have a friend waiting on the side to jump you. A real fight isn’t romantic or pretty. You’ll almost always get hurt. It’s never as predictable as we make it out to be in practice so be prepared for anything and do whatever it takes to survive.

Trust the technique

Pat you used to say, “trust the technique.” I still hear his voice in my head saying this. Whenever someone beats me, it’s almost always because my technique is wrong. It takes a lot of time and effort to get a technique right. Brazilian Jujitsu is extremely precise which is why it’s so effective. But you have to do the technique exactly as you are taught, or it will not work. You must master it. You can’t fake it.

Every time I couldn’t execute a hold or get out of one it was because I didn’t “trust the technique.” This was a true lesson in discipline and self-mastery.

If you are trying something that isn’t working, go back and ask yourself if you are taking all the proper steps.

Focus is everything

Pat used to say that in the sport of cage fighting, everyone knows all the moves and they know how to counter them. So who will win? The fighter with the most focus.

You have to let go of any distraction, love problems, family problems or any other frustrations must be out of your mind. You must focus only on the fight. The slightest distraction will cost you the battle.

Master the art of falling and get up fast

Pat wouldn’t rest until I knew how to fall properly and get up as fast as I could. We all need to learn to take a fall. In martial arts, it’s imperative that we don’t stay down. In life, I’ve learned not to take my failures too hard and to get up right away.

Never give up

Where I used to train MMA, there was instructor named Thor who was also a professional fighter. However, many times he would have us watch his fight and he would lose (which was quite disappointing).

One day, I met up with someone I hadn’t seen for a while and he said that Thor is now a national champion. I remember Thor keeping up after knee, back and shoulder injuries. Supposedly, people told him to quit all the time, but Thor never gave up on himself. He learned from his mistakes and eventually became champion. That’s more than I can say for myself.

I think those of us who are truly successful are those who kept it up long after everyone else decided to quit. Thor said that even when everyone else stopped believing in him, He still continued. He deserves to be champion.

We often admire or envy those who achieved success but we don’t always know the story of failures, humiliation and pain that they went through to get there.

Art is what makes life worth living

As I reached my forties, I became worn out from MMA. I wanted to go back to traditional martial arts. I reunited with an old friend from my Shoa-Lin school who went on to become a master.

There are so many styles of kung fu Adam Dayen could have taught me but he decided to teach me the style that he felt I would have the most trouble with. He taught me Baqua because my hips and back are tight, and this internal martial art requires a lot of twisting and turning. The goal is to learn to get behind your opponent. Baqua is a standing grappling art, full of throws, but its also very deceptive. You’re constantly stepping to the side and taking the opponent’s back.

One day, Adam said to me that I have been focusing too much on competition. “Fighting destroys us,” he said, “but you know this from your writing and painting- –  art is what makes life worth living.”

I never forgot what he said. I realized why I gave up on becoming a competitive MMA fighter. I never really knew why I did it, except that I stopped enjoying it the way I used to. I stopped looking at the practice as an art, to explore and grow with. I got obsessed with competition, with being the best and wondering if I was doing what it takes to outshine everyone. I forgot that the reason I started training in the first place, was because I loved how it made me feel.

Competition teaches us to excel but art teaches cooperation, taking time out for ourselves and spending it with those we love.  Can you imagine a life without music or stories; without creativity and expression? Can you imagine a life without inspiration and imagination? What would we have to look forward too?

Approaching my sport with the heart of an artist has helped me deal with how I’ve changed over the years. I’ve learned to have fun and really embrace the training. I can step back and see the beauty in it. Bruce Lee once said, “Don’t set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water.” I have learned to embrace the changes of my life as I mature and to allow my martial art to reflect that.

Master your stance. Practice stillness

During this time, I was going through some personal issues. I would sometimes show up for training feeling run down or frazzled. Adam was all about standing in holding ball posture and just sinking in that stance for about ten minutes. It cleared my mind and help me find strength. He told me that I needed to learn to stand still if I wanted to master the internal martial arts. It sounds funny, knowing how much I move around all day but standing still made a huge difference. This is another reason why I’m so grateful for learning yoga. Holding a pose and just breathing alleviates a world of stress and brings me center and clarity.

Adam had an amazing amount of discipline, stemming from our old school Shoa-Lin background. He would sit in a horse stance (squat) for a half hour or spend an hour practicing a punch across the park, as if he were jogging long distance.

He took me back to those days when we used to memorize moves and forms so we could practice them on our own. I used to go to the park and practice these forms or katas before I forgot them. I still remember the tai chi form, however. If I ever need to clear my mind and calm my body, it comes in handy.

The greatest masters become healers

One of my favorite kung fu folk heroes is Wong Fei-hung. He was an acupuncturist and eastern medical practitioner who was also a well-respected martial artist. Mastering martial arts requires impeccable knowledge of alignment and energy flow.

Our eskrima grandmaster has mastered energy so much, he can cut or burn himself and he will be healed by the end of the day. He can just look at someone and they will drop their weapon. Maybe its confidence or mind tricks but I’ve seen it myself.

Grandmaster Sultan Uldin told me about his trip to the Philippines to meet the remaining Eskrima masters. He said that most of them gave up fighting and become faith healers. When we shift our intention from harming someone to healing them, our knowledge can be used in this manner.

I’ve been helping people with health and fitness for fifteen years and I see so many people who have given their power over to our medical system. They stop moving due to some injury and assume it will never get better. I’ve seen my martial arts colleagues get hurt from getting thrown or from sparring and they always bounce back, just as strong as ever. I find myself having to give energy to those who are afraid of getting hurt. Movement and exercise give us power and strength so we are harder to hurt and kill. It’s when we move with improper posture and alignment that we get hurt.

To learn more about this art of self healing, check out my Chi Kung/Yoga Workshop

Be Humble

Adam moved to orange county and we couldn’t match schedules anymore, but I stumbled upon a Philippine martial arts group and picked up eskrima stick and knife fighting. I’ve been doing this regularly for over 3 years. I don’t get to practice as often as I did when I was young but, I realized that a little can go a long way if I stick to it.

What amazes me about this group is how humble everyone is. We all have a history of martial arts practice and are willing to hear what the other person has to offer. My main teacher, Josh, is so thankful and respectful to everyone that I look forward to practicing every week.

Over the years, I’ve watched my favorite fighters win triumphantly, and get taken down by newcomers. There is always someone who you can beat, but there will always be someone who can beat you too.

I’m pretty sure that’s what Bruce Lee meant when he said, “I have the absolute confidence not to be number two, but then I have enough sense also to realize that there could be no number one.”

I didn’t realize until now, how I have had to earn learning these lethal techniques. The more I learn, the more I realize what a gift it is. A lot of martial arts are a secret and are only passed down if the student is deemed worthy. Many martial arts moves are hidden in dance and many masters don’t teach the authentic techniques until they know you are worthy. I see how new comers are treated and realize what a strong vetting process is involved.

Often, you learn techniques that may not make sense at first, but if you have faith, you figure out the reasons for these intricate moves and why it works in a battle. Every time I learn something new, I must empty my cup and pretend I’m a newborn once again. I find that success comes from constant passion, constant innovation and constant education. But if we think we already know everything because we learned one thing, we get stuck in a rut. Being an artist, I have no tolerance for ruts.

Being humble isn’t just about staying quiet. It means you are always willing to listen and learn. If you’re always willing to learn that means you are cultivating curiosity and passion. You will always be open to what others teach and exposed to all the gifts that are available to you. Martial artists are always finding the best way to live long and not get killed, but I think the ones that continue to learn and master the art are also finding ways to make the living worthwhile.

This month, I’ll be hosting a workshop on the energetic aspects of yoga and chi kung. More information here:

Chi Kung/Yoga Workshop

I will be hosting a workshop taught by the amazing Lua Black belt, Michelle Manu on the rare and ancient art of Lua. For more information click here:

The Ancient Hawaiian Martial Art, Lua

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 13 Ways to Improve Your Health for Better Aging

We all want to stay vibrant, active, and healthy in our senior years. Unfortunately, that rarely happens through luck alone. It takes effort and dedication all year long to ensure today’s good health lasts into the future.

 

The keys to healthy aging aren’t a scientific mystery. Adopting a lifestyle that includes good diet and exercise habits—and excludes substance abuse, social isolation, and chronic stress—can prevent many disabling health conditions. Unfortunately, while most people understand these principles, many struggle to execute them.

 

If you want to improve your health for a better aging experience, try these 13 practical solutions for a healthier lifestyle.

Eating a Healthy Diet

Specific diet recommendations change as you age, but the principles remain the same:

Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean meats, and fish. Avoid ultra-processed foods, and too much sugar, salt, or saturated fat. Older adults should take extra care to maintain a healthy weight, stay hydrated, and get enough fiber, calcium, and vitamin D.

 

Changing your diet is hard work, but the benefits are worth it. A balanced diet not only promotes a strong, healthy body, it also sets the stage for good mental health. These tips will help you make sustainable changes for healthier eating:

  1. Make small changes; gradual adjustments are more sustainable than crash diets.
  2. Make a grocery list and stick to it. If you can’t resist impulse purchases, use grocery delivery or online ordering with curbside pickup.
  3. Eat well despite obstacles. If you face mobility challenges, try a meal delivery service that delivers either meal kits you cook yourself or pre-made meals that only need to be reheated. Homebound and food insecure seniors may be eligible for meal delivery through Meals on Wheels.

Preventing Substance Misuse and Abuse

Substance-use disorders are more common among seniors than you might think. Not only are seniors vulnerable to alcohol abuse, in part due to declining tolerance to alcohol, but they’re also susceptible to prescription drug problems. Keep yourself free from dependence and addiction by following these tips:

  1. Don’t drink more than three drinks on a given day, or seven drinks in a week, per NIH recommendations.
  2. Manage medications. Avoid taking too much, too little, or triggering a dangerous drug interaction.
  3. Keep a list of your medications and provide health care providers with an updated copy.
  4. Don’t change how you take a prescription without talking to your doctor.

Staying Active

Physical activity is great for both physical and mental health at all stages of life. Older adults should aim to be active every day for a minimum of 150 minutes per week. These tips make that benchmark achievable:

  1. Exercise for 10 minutes at a time. Short workouts are easier to commit to when you’re starting out.
  2. Adapt exercises for safety. Many exercises can be done using a chair or wall for support.
  3. Schedule workouts to encourage follow-through. Exercise with a friend if it helps your motivation.

Nurturing Social Connections

Spending time with friends probably isn’t what comes to mind when you think of health-promoting activities. However, research has proven that social connection is highly important for good health. Social connectedness reduces stress and negative thinking, increases your sense of purpose and self-worth, and even protects your physical health. If you need more friends in your life, take this advice:

  1. Schedule time to call friends and family to maintain connections.
  2. Join a hobby group or religious community, or start volunteering to meet new people.
  3. Connect online. While not a substitute for face-to-face interaction, the internet is a great tool for reinforcing established relationships and forming new ones. However, be wary of online scams. Stay Safe Online names some of the most common scams.

 

Changing long-standing habits is never easy. But when it comes to your health, it’s always worth it. When you make these important changes to your lifestyle, you’ll be rewarded with better health throughout your senior years.

 

Image via Unsplash

PostHeaderIcon Making Fear Work for You

It was about 15 years ago. I was a new mom looking towards a career change. I wanted to be a personal trainer and I was confiding in my cousin via messenger. I told her I was a bit scared, since I sacrificed and spent so much money on acting school, then I stopped pursuing show business. Now I was going to invest what little money I had on more education in a new field.

She told me I was being negative. Looking back, maybe I was being negative but the truth is, we are always scared when we embark on something unknown. Fear is just our mind telling us that we are doing something that is unusual and to approach with caution.

Fast forward fifteen years and I’ve lived a full life as a Certified Personal Trainer. My career continues to grow. I became a fitness instructor, a yoga instructor, a sports/fitness nutritionist, a corrective exercise specialist and much more. I lived my dream and helped thousands of people along the way.

The point of this story is you’re going to get scared when its time to make a change. I always do. But that doesn’t mean you won’t do it. One definition of the word “courage” is to recognize one’s truth. The other definition is to be afraid, but to go ahead and do it anyway. Confidence only comes from experience. Until you get to that level, you must rely on courage. This means, you just have to journey into that great unknown with fear in your heart and pretend that it doesn’t phase you.

If you want to change any direction of your life, be it health, relationships, career or anything else; be prepared to feel fear. If you’re not afraid to feel fear, if you enter into your quest with the fool hardy notion that everything will come easy and things only happen to those who are always confident and perfect, you will be more likely to fail. The most successful of us fail several times before we get it right so be prepared for obstacles. If you’re looking to lose weight, there are weeks that may not go so well. Something might happen that will pull you out of your diet or training regimen. At this point most people give up, but if you are prepared for obstacles, you will soldier on and meet success.

Fear just may be the greatest motivator to excel in life, as long as you use it to take action and not to hide behind a rock. It’s not easy, planning classes in many formats, including workshops. I have to get in front of large groups of people and keep them entertained and motivated, most of the time for an hour or more. I have nightmares that I miss my class or that no one listens to me or does the exercises. I am afraid that I’m teaching things that may be wrong or out of date. I’m terrified that my clients will not make their fitness goals.

How do I handle these fears? I make sure my classes are prepared and thought out. I keep up to date with all the latest information in fitness, nutrition and motivation. I plan and practice everything until it looks effortless. I take good care of myself so my body can handle the challenges of my job. When I do screw up, and it will happen (especially if you are doing something new and different) I look back to see what I could have done to make it better. Then I try again and do a better job. If it weren’t for fear, I wouldn’t care. I’d half ass everything and that is not a formula for success.

You Don’t  Have To Be Perfect:

One other related message I want to convey is that you don’t have to be perfect. That is one of the greatest lessons I’ve had to learn. For so long, students have been asking me to make them a yoga video and I never did because I struggled to find the right camera or production team to make it awesome. Someone finally told me to just film myself as if I was teaching a class. “It doesn’t have to be perfect.” I swallowed my fear and did just that, all in one take from my laptop. I made a yoga and pilates video for the students who asked and they said they loved it. I had to start somewhere.

This is true for everything I’ve ever done. I’ve had to just do it and learn along the way. I know the first class I ever taught was not perfect, but I had to keep teaching and learn from my mistakes before I became he kind of teacher that people told each other about. My first class had two people in it. It took several months to build it up to an adequate amount. To tell you the truth, I was fired from my very first job teaching yoga because I wasn’t a very good teacher. It took me a long time to gain the kind of experience that taught me to excel. Now my yoga classes are packed. But I had to start somewhere. Shoot, I had to get out of the house after having a baby and start taking yoga again.

Everything is a great act of courage and I want to encourage everyone to be brave. That doesn’t mean you’re not scared. That means,  you do it anyway. Deep down inside our timid, insecure selves is something very special that we have to let out. We have to give the world our knowledge, our special way of being. Imagine if I let my fear of starting a new career path stop me fifteen years ago? I could have taken the safe, unchallenged path. Imagine if my teachers did the same thing, and all our teachers before them? We owe it to the world to go out in spite of our fear, even if we’re not perfect.

So what do you have to lose? You can always go back to what you were doing before. Nothing is guaranteed, but if you feel a pull towards a certain path, do it. If you’ve been looking to try out yoga or dance or fitness or martial arts, try it. You’ll be the beginner. That’s scary but its also exciting. It means there’s so much for you to learn. It may just change your life completely.

There are so many quotes about courage, but instead, I’d like to share a poem I found which I wrote when I was a teenager. Every once in a while, my father would take me to the sand dune to train for the cross country team. It was the hardest workout but when I reached the top, I took in the most awesome view of the ocean horizon.

A Hill of Sand

A hill of sand dared I to climb

With sinking foot, fast beating heart.

I’d slip and trip from time to time,

Yet from that slide would never part

I claimed I’d make it if I cared

With fortitude, moved on, stopped not.

Without a doubt and not a care

Could falter me to take my shot

I climbed through wind, through dust, harsh heat.

I looked back not, there wasn’t time,

Ignored my thirst, my aching feet,

Seeing the peak of that hill shine.

Then reaching it, though breathing hard,

I turned about in awe to view

The past I left behind so far,

And all below who never knew,

Knew that their necks needed to strain

So hard to mark that I so high

With oh so much there climbed and gained

Few followed me, most stayed behind,

For some preferred to walk a path

Unlike a hill but flat and dull.

Others preferred a hill of grass,

No sinking feet to lift and haul,

Then some would have a hill less steep

Where movement was in simple ease,

While others never reached their peak,

Like those who never would be pleased,

But I atop my sandy hill

Beheld great freights, broad rocks and trees,

And views those cowards never will.

For this steep hill was made for me.

–By a 16 year old Rhea Morales

 

For a related article about the new science of stress and why its actually good for you, check out this link:

Great News About Stress

Photo credit:
Photo by Jeremy Lapak on Unsplash


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.

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