On getting a fire lit under your butt (A note about motivation)

What is the difference between a couch potato and a runner? (Besides several pounds?) It is MOTIVATION.

Most people are active  for health reasons. For others it’s vanity. Some are adrenaline junkies and a small percentage go for the gym eye candy (you know who you are!). But the real question is: what is your motivation?

I don’t know about you but “it’s good for me” very rarely gets me going. When I have had a long day or a late night and the bed is super comfortable or it is bitterly cold outside, the only thing that would get me going is a plate of crispy bacon.

Getting yourself moving is a matter of digging deep and figuring out what really matters to you. What are you hoping to accomplish? How do you want to feel? Are the results worth it for you? What sacrifices are you willing to make?

These motivating factors are something  you need to keep in mind constantly. Decide what these factors are and then develop goals that are going to get you there. Get into a routine and firmly integrate it into your life. Remember: being active is a way of life not just something you do occasionally.

For some feeling good and looking good is its own reward but that might not exactly get a fire going under your butt. Especially when getting there requires a tremendous amount of determination, discipline and just plain grit.

Yes, even for a yoga teacher like me! I teach so I am at the gym anyway but do I go an hour early so I can take a class before mine or do I let another episode of “What Not To Wear” hold me back? Despite my already active lifestyle some days are harder than others. It’s a struggle to get up when my husband is still warmly snuggled in bed but I drag myself out knowing it’s going to feel really good when I get back (especially when I take a running head start and belly flop on to my still sleeping husband). ::evil laugh:: Anyway…

There is the additional difficulty of getting distracted and even well-meaning people can pull you away from your goals. When I first started going to the gym, it was hard to choose working out over spending time with friends. Just about anything is better than running on a treadmill, including eating bad chinese food and drinking cheap wine with a friend. But I wanted to change my body. I wanted it to be strong and healthy so I created a gym schedule that I could stick to and told my friends that those days were off-limits for gatherings. Occasionally they would try to tempt me from the gym but I was already too far committed to cave in. Besides, I didn’t want to miss Mr. Eye Candy kickboxing instructor (sorry, friends!).

Once you have found your motivation and outlined your goals it is incredibly important to make them known to the people who surround you and ask for their support. Maybe you can even get them to join in! After all, nothing is more inspiring than outrunning a friend or significant other.

So whether your motivation is looking good in that bikini or improving your cholesterol level or finally hiking the Appalachian trail make sure you keep it in the forefront of your mind as you make your day-to-day activity decisions. Take it one day at a time but keep at it and I promise it will get easier.

So tell me… What motivates you?

Image via Flickr (creative commons) by wolfsavard.

Advertisements

Meditation: It’s here to cure what ails you

When you find a nice flat rock, you should sit on it.

These days we’re hearing more and more about the benefits of meditation. We’re reading about how it can make you more alert, reduce your stress, enhance your creativity, make you taller and pump up your biceps… (Okay, scratch the last two…) But it is starting to sound like the magical pill that will cure whatever ails you and it seems like everyone is trying to get in on it… After all, it’s only about sitting on a cushion, closing your eyes and breathing deeply, right?

Well, yes and no.

Meditation could be as simple as that but it actually takes a lot of work to get there. And you’re selling yourself short if you don’t consider all the possibilities of meditating. Don’t forget that it is an ancient tradition and certainly an important part of any yoga practice. Its powers can literally transform you if you let it.

But what makes meditation hard? Well, try this little exercise with me: Sit still for a moment, hands in your lap, back straight and shoulders relaxed. Now turn your attention to your breath and let it come in and out without any effort. Then clear your mind… Try not to think of anything. Just sit quietly blank for a few moments. Continue to keep your mind clear and keep pressing away any thoughts that may come in. Are you breathing still? Okay, now keep it going for a solid ten minutes…

Not so easy, is it? Little thoughts keep trying to jump in and drag you away from your center. Maybe your back will start to twitch or slouch or maybe you get completely carried away and start to fall asleep! Like everything else it requires discipline and practice and a helluva lot of patience.

But, Sam, how can I get in on this, you ask?

To start, I highly recommend you participate in a guided meditation class to get an idea of how it goes. Let someone ease you into it. Let them guide your breathing and your posture. You can very easily find a free class to join if you google “free meditation class” in your neck of the woods. Try it a few times. Try several different studios until you can find one where you feel comfortable. Then go ahead and try it at home.

Don’t forget that there are many different styles of meditation. And just like yoga, meditation is a personal journey. Some need a space to do meditation while others can do it just about anywhere. Some include moving (e.g. walking) while others involve visualization. There is no one correct way to do it. It’s about getting in touch with what feels good for you and what allows you to let go and surrender to the present. I wish I could tell you how it’s supposed to feel but I can’t. It is going to be different for you.

I think it would also help if you read about meditation, its history and its tradition. I would recommend The Miracle of Mindfulness: A Manual on Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh. Allow yourself to obtain a deeper understanding of the practice including its variations. Learn about different techniques and immerse yourself in it. It will give your process a whole new dimension.

But make no mistake meditation is not a quick-fix for your not taking care of yourself. If the source of your stress is doing too much or not getting enough rest, an additional activity is not going to help. Trust me. It certainly does not take the place of much needed sleep or exercise.

So that is MY take on meditation. Excuse me while I get off my soapbox now. If you have tips, books or experiences in meditation to share with me and my readers, please feel free to do so! In the meantime, let’s all slowly say OM together… Ooooooooooommmmmmm….

Balance: It’s more than standing on one leg

Balance is an important aspect of a yoga practice. In the physical sense, your ability to balance signifies a strong core. In the mental sense, it shows focus and concentration. These are the two aspects of balance and just like the song “Love and Marriage,” you can’t have one without the other.

But why IS it so important?

Because we need balance in our lives.

Every day we juggle work responsibilities, a home, relationships and just about everything else – sometimes with disastrous results! We strive to keep everything on an even keel because it’s the only way we can thrive. Sure, we fall off kilter every now and then but we regain equanimity… eventually.

In class, when you are holding the standing tree pose, you are forced to clear your mind, focus on the task at hand and calm your breathing. Sound like something that could help you during stressful situations? Of course.

Standing Tree Pose

Yoga doesn’t begin and end inside the studio. It infuses our lives. The skills you pick up in class could be very easily translated into your every day. And balance is one of those things. You train  your mind to do something and you can apply it to everything else that you’re doing.

Ultimately, your yoga practice should balance you.

So the next time your yoga teacher asks you to take a deep breath in and find your center, take a mental record of that command and walk out of the room with it.

Good luck and happy yoga!

How to be a ROCK STAR student

There is a plethora of articles on what makes a good yoga teacher but the reality is it’s not just the instructor that can be bad. YOU could be a yoga teacher’s worst nightmare.

You come in late. You noisily roll out your mat. Your audible sigh practically echoes in the room. You showboat during class. You don’t listen to any coaching and worse yet you stoically stare at the teacher the entire session without cracking a smile.

So let’s talk about it… HOW TO BE A GOOD STUDENT:

  1. Lay off  the perfume but definitely layer on the deodorant.
  2. Walk in with an open mind that is ready to focus and work.
  3. Do I really need to tell you to silence your phone? Okay, well, SILENCE YOUR PHONE!
  4. Let the teacher know if you are new to the class, injured or recovering from an injury.
  5. Do your best to follow instructions and ask questions, if appropriate.
  6. Try not to move ahead of the teacher. Poses are held for a reason and no one likes a show-off.
  7. If the teacher says something funny, go ahead and laugh. It’s okay.
  8. Respect your fellow students – don’t lay your mat too closely to someone or block her view of the teacher.
  9. If you’re late to class or have to leave early, be as quiet as possible so as not to disrupt others.
  10. Provide feedback. (Really! We’d love to know how we could improve!)

Teachers are fueled by the energy from students. So any positive energy you can share not only improves your experience but helps the class as a whole. Remember, we are still human beings who want to make sure you’re also enjoying yourself so give us a break and smile back. It won’t kill you.

Your teacher is giving you everything he’s got. Are you giving back?

All work and no yoga makes for a bad combination

Lonely yoga matCONFESSION: I’m a yoga teacher who doesn’t do yoga.

It’s criminal. And I’m feeling haggard, stressed and like a complete fraud.

I teach yoga because I love it and I strongly believe in its restorative power… You’ve heard me go on and on about it. But these days, along with my full-time job, I teach two evening classes during the week and two more classes every other weekend. I also run, spin and occasionally weightlift… All of this while maintaining this blog, hanging out with friends, spending quality time with the hubs and giving myself some down time. And I need PLENTY of down time.

So where does my personal yoga practice fit into all of this? I don’t know. But something has to give…

But what? I love my students and I love teaching but it’s just not the same as being a student and allowing myself to be fully immersed. And writing? Well, I’ve always wanted to write and now I finally get to! Did I mention that I like to read and I have so many books I’ll die before I can read them all?

But ultimately, can I really be an effective yoga teacher without taking yoga myself?

The answer is no.

So what do you do when the life you’ve worked so hard to create turns on you and starts beating the crap out of you?

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by mosabua.

How to meet the gym of your dreams

I once walked into a Bally’s in Washington, DC to check it out… I was subjected to a high pressure sales pitch then was insulted by the sales person when I didn’t cave in. Suffice it to say that I will never join a Bally’s and neither will anyone willing to listen.

But it begs the question, how do you decide which gym to join?

Factor #1: Convenience.

The more convenient the location of the gym the more likely you’ll go. Is parking available? Is it easy to get to? Do the gym hours work with your schedule?

Factor #2: Facilities

The equipment doesn’t have to be brand spanking new but they should be in good condition. Look for machines you might use. Visit the gym at a time when you would normally go. Is it crowded? Is there a wait to use the machines? Don’t forget to look at the locker room and make sure it’s clean and well-kept. Do they have other services that you’re interested in? Maybe a tanning salon, personal training, massage services, or a daycare?

Factor #3: Group Fitness

Do they offer a wide variety of group fitness classes? On your tour, take a few moments to observe a class. Is the instructor good? Do the students look like they’re enjoying themselves?

Factor #4: Ambience

Does the gym have a good energy about it or is it a barren wasteland with only a few surly-looking members hanging about? Is the staff friendly?

But what about price, you ask? That all depends on what you’re willing to pay and the kind of services you’re looking for. Some gyms have swimming pools and tennis courts. If you’re not going to use it, don’t pay for it.

By all means, take advantage of their free membership passes and get an even better feel of the place by actually using it. But please don’t sign any contracts without reading it! Some legal considerations at least in the state of Maryland can be found here. Your state government website should have some information for you.

Going to the gym can be a real drag and often requires a lot of motivation (even bribery) so having a gym that you enjoy will make a huge difference.

Good luck!

And as always, if you love your local gym, leave your recommendation in the comments. Hopefully we can partner up some people with the gym of their dreams.

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by Sanchom.