Running headlong into your fear

Yesterday I taught my first ever Spinning class.

No biggie, right? After all, I have been teaching yoga for years. This is just another format… WRONG! To quote our esteemed Vice President, “This is a big fucking deal.”

I was certified to teach Spinning a year and a half ago. That is how long it took to gather enough courage to teach a class that is the antithesis of yoga. For 18 months these feelings of shame hung over my head – haunting me every time I walked into the gym. My mental block said that the expectations of Spinning students are different. They are very demanding. And I just did not know if I had it in me to switch from my easygoing yoga teaching style to hardcore Spinning drill sergeant. I was afraid of failing my students. (I still am.)

If certain individuals had not relentlessly pushed me to teach, I would have tried to live the rest of my life as a coward. And never teach a single Spinning class. But I knew that I could not continue to live with the weight of my fear (and failure) on my shoulders. And it has been a constant companion for too long.

I practiced like crazy but when the day finally came as I sat on the Spinning bike waiting for students to walk in (and possibly walk out) I still felt shaky and uncertain. I kept saying in my head, “Don’t let them smell your fear!” Fortunately, the members at the National Naval Medical Center were incredibly encouraging and all those hours I spent agonizing over this moment was a waste of time. When class ended I was so ecstatic that I hugged the Front Desk guy on the way out.

Sitting on the other side of my conquered fear I chide myself for building it up so much that I paralyzed myself. And it stumped me for a really long time despite everyone’s reassurances that I would do okay. I would even ask myself why was I torturing myself like this? I don’t need to do this. I don’t need to prove anything to anyone… But I did. I needed to do it for myself because it was something I had set out to do and I was terrified. But I couldn’t let myself fail without at least giving it a try. To quote my friend, life coach Lauree Ostrofsky of Simply Leap:

I am really proud of myself. I faced this thing I had been so afraid of. Ultimately, I had to stop telling myself, “I’ll do it when I’m ready. I just need a little more time.” Sometimes the best time is RIGHT NOW and that feeling of readiness is never going to come. You just have to take that leap. The best part is? I feel a helluva lot lighter. And, yes, I put myself through an emotional wringer but it was worth it. At this moment, I am flying high and it feels like there is nothing I cannot do.

So now it is my turn to ask you, what are you afraid of and what are you waiting for? More importantly, how can I help?

6 tips on getting the most out of your yoga practice

Your yoga practice is called that because – duh – it requires practice! It also takes work, commitment and dedication. You will be elated by your good days and you will have to persevere through your bad days. You will learn and re-learn things. You will discover truths about yourself.

Each time you step on your mat will be a complete and unique experience. Your yoga teacher plays a role in what happens during class but, more importantly, YOU play a role in your yoga experience.

Think about it – after a particularly heinous day, you get on your mat thinking you’re going to “yoga this day right out of your hair” but then you hold on to your unpleasant thoughts… Does your practice then feel a little lacking? Do you feel as frustrated as when you started? Do you feel like you just wasted your time?

Below are some tips on how you can make the most of yoga each and every time you step on your mat:

  • Be patient. Strong poses take time. It will come.
  • Stay present. Mindfulness increases awareness of your body. It will not only help you fly in your poses but also prevent injuries.
  • Release your expectations. Don’t start with the goal of successfully holding a difficult pose. Allow your body to guide you and don’t be too hard on yourself.
  • Do not multi-task. Set aside your to-do list or what lies ahead of you. Focus on the one thing that you are doing. You will be better at listening to the needs of your body.
  • Ignore your peers. You are on a different point in your yoga journey than your fellow yogis. Turn your blinders on and focus.
  • Breathe. When you are straining, you tend to hold your breath. When you hold your breath, your muscles tighten up instead of expanding and this will hamper your flexibility.

I know… You’re thinking… It can’t be that easy?!? Trust me. It isn’t. In an age where multi-tasking is king not letting our mind go “SQUIRREL!” is a hard task. Rather than talking to yourself as you flow from one pose to the next let your mind go blank. Then come back here and tell me how it went.

Good luck!

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.