I hate running

Yeah, I said it.

From the moment I step off my porch until the second I’m back on my porch I am hating running.

There’s no clarity. There’s no Nike-like video where a woman is running on a lonely road looking strong and confident.

Lonely Road

Instead there’s me shuffling along angry, tired and wheezing like grandma – wondering to myself when this torture is going to end. I know that’s the case because on one occasion I ran by a punk teenage boy wearing all black who looked up at me, smiled and gave me an encouraging thumbs up. He actually felt bad for me! That’s how sad-looking I am when I go running. People always ask, “But you must feel good after, right?” Nope. There IS relief that it’s done but there’s NO celebration. There’s no enthusiasm for more. There’s no “I feel great!” – only “Man, that sucked.” It’s just not getting easier.

I’m convinced that people who claim they love to run are actually doing it on a bicycle. They’re confused, that’s all.

I only run once or twice a week and about 3.5 miles. And every single time it takes all of my mental capacity to tie up my shoe laces and head out the door. All the block rocking beats in the world in my MP3 player couldn’t help. It’s always the last thing I want to do.

Naturally, on a running day it’s the first thing that I do.

I don’t love working out. Some days I don’t even love doing yoga. I would rather read a book, watch TV or nap. Exercise or anything healthy would not be in the top 10 choices I would make if I were given a menu to choose from.

So to get around this lack of motivation to move, I simply removed the choice.

It’s not whether I would run or not – it’s what time will I go running. In prosaic terms, it become a way of life. It removes the option of not moving. There’s no talking myself into it (or out of it). It’s just something that’s going to be done. I’m healthier when I move. Being sedentary is not an option and that left me with exercising. So despite my hatred of running, I treat it like the many necessary evil tasks of my every day life – just get it done and move on. Don’t linger over it. Don’t wait. Don’t stall. Get out there and get it over with. (This is perhaps why the “Just Do It” Nike campaign resonated with so many people).

This did not happen overnight. I don’t have the discipline of an Olympian. I first had to learn that I could do it and even reap the benefits. But like my yoga practice it evolved over time and I worked on it over and over again. I failed over and over again. But we can train our mind to help us make the right decisions for our body. There is no difference between people who exercise and people who don’t. It’s just that some people push through the inertia of a body at rest staying at rest.

This is not to say that I don’t do a happy dance for the torrential downpour on my running day. I do a little bit but I also remind myself: if not today, then tomorrow.

There is an effective mental trick in all of us that can get us off the couch and moving. You just have to figure it out. Maybe it’s not for running. Maybe it’s for doing another unpleasant task like polishing the furniture. If you have something, will you please share it? Maybe you can inspire someone else!

Photo via Flicker (Creative Commons) by Anoxlou.

Getting hurt while doing yoga…

Lorin at The Vegan Asana recently wrote about yoga sometimes hurting. In it she says, pain is okay

as long as the pain is not extreme, is not unusual, is not unbearable, does not produce dizziness or nausea, and is not in areas of the body that are very easily injured (e.g. knees) or where injuries could be quite dangerous (e.g. neck).

Great things to keep in mind with any physical activity. At the beginning of my class and throughout class, I remind students that though they should feel challenged within the poses, they should not feel any sharp pain and if they do, then they need to slowly and carefully come out of the pose. Additionally, I emphasize modified versions of poses by demonstrating that first then showing the more advanced positions before returning to the other version to encourage students not to push beyond what they are capable of at the present. (Yes, more often than not, I can tell when a student is not ready for a pose).

Despite all of that I still see plenty of students who push harder than they should at the risk of getting hurt.

But I encourage them to come back because I want them to learn that a great thing about yoga is that it provides an opportunity to tune in to your body while it is in action. Whether you are moving into the warrior poses, holding them or coming out, you are mindfully going slowly enough to listen to your body. You can ask: what felt good? What didn’t? Did adjusting one way make it better or worse? You will learn so much about your body during a yoga practice.

That is, if you are listening…

The key to avoiding getting hurt inside and outside of yoga is knowing where your edges are. Your physical edge is that line in your body right before the benefit of exertion becomes harmful and injury is likely. Like a cliff, you approach your edge slowly and carefully so that you don’t fall over. Knowing where solid ground ends and free fall begins is important to preventing injury.

For example, in a seated forward fold, a student with tight hamstrings shouldn’t grab his feet, jerk his torso towards his legs and pull as hard as he can to get his chest as close to his thighs as possible. This can cause a serious tear and take him out of commission for weeks. The fold should be approached slowly, bending from the hip creases while using the breath to gradually lower the chest towards the legs to deepen the stretch. Done carelessly, it’s not just your legs that you can hurt but your back as well.

The mentality of pushing past pain does more harm than good. Pain, after all, is your body telling you that it is not okay. Ignoring pain comes with a price that can easily be avoided if we spent just a little more time listening to our bodies and being kinder to ourselves. There is, of course, a difference between pain and intensity. In a stretch, it changes from intensity to pain when you are no longer enjoying the movement. At that point, pulling back is recommended.

It is up to us to define our own edges – physically and psychologically. It is the only sure-fire way to stay safe. If you have any wisdom to share about your experience with injury, please leave them here!

Smarter than you are

My motivation

Why do I exercise?

  • Because I feel like a badass after pushing myself harder than I ever have before…
  • Because it’s not called an adrenaline rush for nothing…
  • Because I don’t want to feel my age when I’m over 50…
  • Because I love myself more than my couch…
  • Because I can’t afford a whole new wardrobe every six months…
  • Because my family and friends deserve me at my best…
  • Because vanity won’t allow me to do any less…
  • Because donuts and cupcakes aren’t going to eat themselves…
  • Because heart disease and diabetes are not my friends…
  • Because I want to live long and I want to live well…

Why do YOU exercise?

Personal training or personal torture?

Last November, after months of toying with the idea and agonizing over the cost, I hired a personal trainer. When I shared this with others, the most common reactions were…

  • “Why? You don’t need a trainer! You’re thin enough already!”
  • “Isn’t this something you already know how to do?”
  • “Isn’t your workout regimen enough?”
  • ::blank stare::

Yes, I do exercise regularly on top of teaching yoga classes. And I know my way around the gym but I needed to do something more… I was at my heaviest weight. And no matter how hard or how often I worked I didn’t feel like I was getting any results. I was also bored with my workout and my motivation was waning day after day. I was skeptical about the magic trainers can do but I was getting more frustrated so I caved in and hired a personal trainer.

I chose Francois Edouard, an Elite Trainer, at Sport and Health in Bethesda. Why? For the following reasons:

  1. He was fit.
  2. He was friendly with an evil sense of humor.
  3. He was highly recommended by friends and other personal trainers.
  4. He could work with my late gym schedule.
  5. He had the credentials and experience I was looking for. (Certified by the National Strength Professionals Association with 14 years of experience)

Our first session together was an assessment. We talked about what my goals were, my eating habits, any injuries I might have and my current workout schedule. He also wanted to see what I could do or as he put it “how much gas was in my tank…” So he made me do some pushups, some core work and other exercises and finally checked my flexibility. Based on his assessment we agreed on 30-minute sessions twice a week for three months.

After the first week or two, I was sure Francois had broken me as I limped around through my day. At every session all I could think about in the longest 30 minutes of my life was “Do not puke. Do not puke – at least not in front of everyone.” My body did start to hurt a little less as we progressed but I still wasn’t exactly skipping along.

And you know what? It was worth it.

After three months, I lost 5 pounds and 2 inches. It doesn’t seem like a lot but it was to me. I certainly hadn’t been able to do it in the 12 months that I had been trying. Turns out I needed that extra push to knock me out of my exercise plateau. I had never worked so hard in my life and it gave me a better idea of what I was capable of. Francois was great to work with – although I was terrified of whatever torture he had planned for the evening.  He kept our workouts fun and interesting. I feel stronger. I feel better. And confident that I can keep this going.

He also inspired me to change my habits outside of the gym. (Yes, I did get my 30-day alcohol fast idea from him.) It also felt good to have someone who was helping me work towards my goal, pushing me and motivating me when I needed it. More importantly, I learned a lot about proper form and other exercises I could do that worked several muscle groups all at once so I could get more out of every workout.

I highly recommend working with a good trainer. Someone with experience. Someone you can relate to. Someone who understands your real limits and pushes you farther than you’ve ever gone before. Whether you’re a workout newbie or a seasoned fitness star, a trainer can help you get to your fitness goals.

Would I do it again? Absolutely.

And if you happen to be near Bethesda Sport and Health, tell Francois I sent you. I’ll also leave you with this parting advice: If you’re not afraid of your trainer, then he’s not working you hard enough.

Happy training!

Your ticket to the gun show

Never say never

I am not a quitter.

I am opposed to the idea of all or nothing.

I believe in MODERATION.

Even when we’re talking about bad habits. After all, everyone has one (or, in my case, five…… thousand).

One of them was my dependency on soda. A can of soda first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I was having about 3 to 5 a day. It was my pick-me-up, my panacea, my crutch… If I didn’t get any, I would get cranky — okay, MORE cranky.

Finally, two years ago – after much nagging by family and friends – I made the bold decision to cut out soda from my life. I was getting older, gaining weight, my sleeping pattern was wacky and I was not bouncing back as quickly from the abuse I was giving my body.

At the beginning, I kept failing at it. I was sneaking it in when no one was around. I would lie if anyone asked if I had had any soda. Then I’d be plagued with guilt and shame. I felt pretty pathetic. And I really thought I couldn’t do it. That I was doomed to age badly with osteoporosis.

But then a friend pointed out that if drinking soda was one of the worst things I was doing to myself then maybe I just need to relax – to quit being so hard on myself. There were worse things I could be doing. And so I thought, “What if I just cut back instead?” A little soda wasn’t bad. It was that I was drinking it like water. Suddenly a gigantic eco-friendly light bulb went off in my head!

So when I said cut out I didn’t mean never ever. And it’s that distinction that has allowed me to dramatically cut down on my soda intake. I went from having soda every single day to once a month – if that.

The key has been not saying NEVER. Allowing myself to have it on very rare occasions has made avoiding it so much easier. It’s not draining on my self-control and I feel a lot happier. It’s a little way of tricking myself but it has made all the difference.

And when I “slip” I’m a lot kinder to myself. There’s no beating myself up. There’s no disappointment. There’s no feeling of failure. There are no late night soda benders – where I’m up all night and I wallow in self-recrimination the next day. Because no one’s perfect. I would love to tell you that as a yogi I eat well and do well all the time but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. By taking the word NEVER out of my vocabulary I am loving myself better. I don’t get as easily derailed and I’m more likely to get back on and start again. To relax, relate and RELEASE!

So write NEVER on a piece of paper, rip it up and throw it away. You can thank me later. I accept cupcakes as a form of payment.

And if you have any tips that you use to stay on track, please let me know! Let’s get some ideas going!

How to start working out

So you got yourself a gym  membership, a velour tracksuit that J-Lo would be envious of and a new pair of sneakers – now what? I am asked all the time how to start a workout regimen – whether it’s running, weightlifting or yoga. Or even just how to finally get active.

It’s simple and I’ll tell you how. Just send me three payments of $9.99…

Just kidding.

You start by walking – literally. Take a walk outside or on a treadmill… Just walk. For a mile or three. Whatever you can do. Try that for a week. The week after walk a little farther or walk a little faster. Maybe add in some run/walk/gallop combination. If the weather is nice, go for a nice long hike.

If you joined a gym, try a group fitness class.

Most gyms have a weightlifting class or a sculpting class that can accommodate all levels of fitness. That is where I started. Instructors were able to tell me how much weight to use and kept an eye on my form to make sure I wasn’t hurting myself. (At the beginning, senior citizens were lifting twice as much weight as I was but I made myself feel better by moving my bench as far away from them as possible – bunch of overachievers.) 😉  I tried every single group fitness class that was offered – including Zumba – I felt both fabulous and ridiculous. (Did you know that laughing at yourself also burns calories?)

From there you figure out the activities you enjoy – what motivates you, keeps you challenged and more importantly keeps you coming back. Once it’s in your blood it’s fairly easy to delve into other activities like kayaking, hiking, rock wall climbing or long bike rides.

Here are a few tips you can try:

5k Running Machine

1.  Tag along with an already active friend (i.e. let her drag you to something you never thought you’d do).

2.  If running is your chosen drug, register for a 5k race. There’s nothing like a definable goal to keep you motivated.

3.  Sign up for a challenge. (Like the Burpee Challenge starting tomorrow!)

4.  Rope a friend in. Hopefully you’ll keep each other going.

5.  Start simply and build. Don’t allow yourself to take on too much. You start small and get stronger every day.

Ultimately, being active will become a way of life – something you want to do rather than something you have to do. But the beginning is really as simple as walking out of your front door.

So what are you waiting for?

Yoga for Men?

These past few weeks I have been consumed by one question: How can I get more men into yoga? Hell, I would be satisfied with just getting them to try it! Just once! It is ironic that there was a time when yoga was meant only for men and women had to fight for the right to practice yoga.

But to get to the bottom of my issue, I asked a wide range of men – young, old, single, married, straight, gay, normal, weird, athletes, non-athletes, boxers or briefs (?) – what is stopping him from trying yoga? I even set up a poll on my Facebook Page to get more input!

Below are the three most common objections voiced by the people I interacted with (and my response to each, of course!):

1. I am not flexible enough.

My response: Yoga will help you with that. Trust me. No one expects you to be an expert. It is my job to help you get there.

2. Yoga is a female-dominated exercise (aka Yoga is for women).

My response: I do not see what the problem is especially for those hoping to make new female friends. 😉 But then again I am not afraid to walk into a male-dominated weight room. No one is paying attention to what you are doing. Get over it.

3. Yoga is like stretching. It would be one more thing to do. I’m not seeing the  benefits.

My response: Yoga is so much more than “stretching.” (You would know that if your ignorant butt would actually try a class!) It requires flexibility and strength. It is holding your squats and planks instead of powering through them (poorly and incorrectly I might add). It is stretching your muscles to the limit but still demanding strength from it. Instead of weights you are using your own weight with gravity. Anyone who has ever done a pushup would know that this is enough.

This man is not a pansy

Men need yoga maybe even more than women do precisely because men are less flexible. As you age, you are going to need that flexibility more than ever. Even Men’s Health Magazine recognizes the need for men to do yoga and have dedicated a page on their website for precisely that.

But my question of how to get men into yoga classes remains unanswered. My husband suggested a “Yoga for Men” class – designed specifically for men in a room filled with men. The idea has merit (don’t tell him I said that). So what say you, men of the world? Are you in?

And if anyone else has any suggestions, I would certainly love to hear it. If you are a man who practices yoga, I want to hear from you as well!

Image via Flickr (creative commons) by Andy Polaine.