Friday, June 1, 2018

An Ode to Treadmill Running

This is not actually an ode, it’s more of a lament: Lamentations on Treadmill Running.

I can’t think of anything more boring, fitness-wise, than running on a treadmill.

At least if you are on a stationary bike, you’re stable enough to read a magazine.

Back in grad school, I could read my homework while stepping on the elliptical. But the treadmill is just too bouncy.

If you happen to be so blessed as to actually enjoy running for the sake of running, then you would most likely prefer to be outside, where you have the diversion of passing cars, squirrels, other humans, trees, and possibly even the movement of light on water (my very favorite thing to see).

But on a treadmill indoors, well, you have none of these things.

I often feel like a hamster on a freaking wheel while on the treadmill, but I still do it. Partly because of heat, insects, rain, and pollen, but mostly because I am still recovering from a back injury (I had two bulging lumbar disks, one high, one low, one left, one right) that occurred about a year and a half ago, and the treadmill creates less impact on feet, knees, hips and back than any real-world surface. It’s a nice transition from nothing and on my way to building up to dirt, track or gravel. I need to start somewhere.  

I’ve been doing all the other kinds of cardio I can think of, just not running. The omission of this cardio category is starting to bother me. I have the suspicion that I am letting fear control me, so I want to get over that hurdle and move forward. 

There are some tricks that I use to make treadmills more bearable, and some tricks that gyms can use to make them more usable. I will start with the gyms. So like, if you are gym shopping, or opening your own gym, these are things to think about.

What gyms can do to make it better

As a gym user, none of these things are in your control, but when you are setting up a home gym or choosing a gym, it’s something to think about. Alternately, if you are a Negative Nancy, I have now armed you with a whole list of complaints for your gym. You’re welcome.

Gyms can arrange the treadmills for maximal entertainment value. 
I do not mean putting the treadmills in front of a big wall of TVs. Who cares. The last thing in the world I want to do is watch more HGTV or FOX News. I want to be able to watch people while I work out. I mean, it would be nice if we could manage to bring in some Chippendale’s dancers to do their daily strength training workout, but really any normal people doing normal things are fine.  

The best setup I’ve seen is cardio equipment on a second-floor deck overlooking a first-floor weight room. You could feel like the hawk-eye observer watching people down below (Not at all creepy). Another great setup is cardio overlooking the outdoor pool. We stayed in a hotel in Las Vegas one time with this setup and a group of badly behaved Kardashian wannabes showed up during my workout for three consecutive days. I didn’t want to leave when my time was up.

Conversely, it is the worst when gyms put a treadmill right in front of a wall. You are already doing the most boring fitness thing imaginable. Now let’s put you in front of a plain white wall while you do it. Or maybe a crooked motivational poster that says something about flying with eagles. Hmm, I’m on a treadmill. At least give me a poster of the African savannah so I can pretend I’m a lion chasing zebras or something.

Gyms can have great music. 
Unfortunately, “great music” is really going to vary depending on who you talk to, so what I mean by this is music that I personally like. And that is going to be music you hate if you aren’t into 80’s pop and breakup songs. (Maybe plan your own playlists for treadmill runs).

Gyms can invest in treadmills that quickly adjust speeds. 
Some treadmills have quick-set buttons that allow you to bump up from, say 4mph to 6, 7 or 8mph by touching a single button. The one I used today required bumping up a tenth of a mile-per-hour at a time, which is ok if you are just going to warm up and then hit a steady pace for the freaking run, but not so great if you want to do sprints. Because if you are going to sprint for 30 seconds at your all-out pace, the last thing in the world you want to do is take an extra 15 seconds trying to bump down a tenth of a mile at a time. You could literally die in the process. I realize I could step on the side rails while I dial it down. But that feels like quitting.

Things that I personally do to make my treadmill experience less hideous:

I bring my music
I really need a compelling playlist. I love Spotify for this reason. There are so many running playlists available. It’s fun finding new things. There are two challenges here. One is that if you don’t have access to Wifi where you will be treadmilling, you will need to download your playlist, which means you will need to pay for Spotify, and that is a bummer because we all love free stuff. But maybe you have Wifi in your gym. Yay for you! 

The next challenge for me (probably not you) is that I still don’t really have Bluetooth headphones—well, I do technically own them, but they are almost never charged, so I am still using corded headphones. And once I get going in my run, there is an 85% chance I will catch a cord in one of my hands and yank it out of my ear, probably sending it flying into the person next to me.

I do Sprints! Just like in spin class, sprints interrupt the hellish monotony of the treadmill workout. I’ll do about six minutes at a good 5k pace, then back off, walk for a minute, do another six minutes at a 5k pace, back off, walk, and then do some flat out sprints for a while. For me, sprints are actually really fun. I wish I could do more of them without wanting to vomit.

I climb fake hills! Just like the sprints, the hills break up the monotony. After I get really tired/nauseated from the sprints, I am typically too tired to come back up to my 5k pace for a while, so I pick up the treadmill incline and do a slower-speed uphill walk or jog. I am still recovering from the injury, so I have nothing to prove, just happy to be moving at all.

Big Finish! It’s a thing I do to entertain myself, that I like to finish strong. So I have it in my head that I am always going to sprint across the imaginary finish line (let’s say I have chosen to run 5k that day). So maybe I have like a half mile left. For some moronic reason, I forget how long a half mile really is, and I think I can run flat out for a whole half mile. LOLS. So I run like 0.2 miles and nearly die, and then I have to spend the next 0.1 mile clicking down the speed on the ridiculously slow torture controller on my gym’s treadmill. By then I’m down to like, 0.2 miles remaining. And by the time I’m not gasping for breath anymore, I have about 0.1 mile left and I realize that I have just enough time to actually sprint across the finish line, so I click it all the way back up again, and about the time the treadmill almost gets to a decent running pace (but not my sprint pace), the little computer brain inside the treadmill recognizes the fact that I have completed my goal distance and decides to shut me down. Game over.  Anticlimactic end. But oh well, like I said, I have nothing to prove, and any kind of moving is better than no moving.

As I reach the end of this post, as at the end of this day, I really am just thankful for the health that I have, for the fitness level that I have, and for the ability to keep on moving every day. Even though life presents its challenges, I always appreciate the opportunity to keep on growing!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

What about hot Yoga?`

As a Yoga teacher, people often ask me what I think about hot Yoga. I am going to give the very short answer and the long answer if you want to keep reading.

Short answer: I think that hot Yoga appeals to a lot of people, and if it is the thing that works for you, you should definitely do it. Try it, see if you like it. If you go, be sure to drink plenty of water before--I mean starting with the night before the class. Stay well hydrated. Take sips of water during the class (but don't chug). After class, continue to hydrate well. How much water? You want so make sure that your pee is plentiful and clear, but be careful not to drink so much water that you throw your electrolytes out of balance in the other direction.

Long answer: I have taken many hot Yoga classes with many different instructors over the years. Sometimes I have loved it, and sometimes I could not wait for the class to be over. The two factors that most greatly influenced my experience in the class were:
1) My hydration level.
2) The instructor.

My hydration level is 100% my responsibility. It is my job before a hot Yoga class, or any kind of exercise in which I know I will be doing a lot of sweating, to put a lot of liquid in my body. If I fall down on that job, I will suffer the consequences, which for me, include abdominal cramping, stomach upset, and migraine headaches. These symptoms are likely to last 12 hours or more.

As for the instructors, Yoga teachers are usually really nice people, so it's not like they are coming in and being jerks. The way the teacher influences my experience in the class is through pose sequencing, and how well he or she cues, adapts, assists and gauges the class. I find these things important in any class, but especially important in a hot class, where everyone is sweaty, and the sweat layer on the skin is going to affect the student's ability to execute certain poses. For example, arm balances are harder with a layer of water on you. I mean, trying to get your leg to balance on top of your tricep is hard enough with a dry arm and leg, but if they are both wet and slippery, it's a whole different ballgame.

Also, a heated class is harder on your heart. Let's say you cloned yourself and had you at your exact same fitness level in two different rooms, doing the exact same Yoga flow at the exact same time, all other factors being the same except the temperature. One room is 76 degrees F, the other is 105. You probably already know from your life experience of doing things outside that your heart is going to work harder doing the same stuff at the higher temperature. This does not mean that you are necessarily getting a better workout, it just means that your heart has to work more to accomplish the same thing.

Some people really like the fact that they sweat buckets during a hot Yoga class. This, together with the higher heart rates reported on their fitness trackers, really makes them feel like they have Accomplished Something. If this is a desirable outcome for you, that is great! I don't discourage it. In fact, the sweat output is one of the touted benefits of a hot Yoga class: its supporters argue that the sweat flush encourages toxins to leave the body, effectively cleansing the body from the inside.

Do be aware that that higher heart rate and the vast amounts of sweat are telling you that your body is working harder to do basic things. And things that would typically be a challenge to begin with, like a handstand, are an extra layer of difficult.

Again, I am not saying hot Yoga is bad by any means. When I have been in classes with experienced, savvy, and compassionate teachers, I have seen them sequence and pace the classes so that we were able to build up to peak poses like handstand safely, without being heat-exhausted by the time we got there. However, I have also seen the opposite happen, where instructors to pushed a class at a high-challenge level for the first 35 minutes, and then tried to have us turn into an inversion with very little guidance or alternatives. And this in a small room, with no usable walls. This resulted in a class with 15 or so exhausted folks in the middle of the room, trying to kick up into a sweaty, unbalanced handstand or headstand, with no wall to fall into, and no real idea of how to safely get there, because the sole cue the instructor gave them was, "And now, try a handstand."

It's moments like that when I fight the urge to just walk out of the class. Instead, I usually choose to just take an early Savasana and watch everyone else, while hoping that no one's handstand goes awry, sending them crashing into my head. If that ever happens, at least I know I have my CPR training to fall back on.

Oh, one other thing to mention about hot Yoga is that it's not for people who are smell-sensitive. When I'm taking a hot class, I run my body through the shower beforehand, just as a courtesy to others, kind of like how you are supposed to shower before entering the pool. But just like the pool, not everyone does that. So if you are in a small, hot room with 15-20 people and there is a lot of sweating and no kind of air circulation going on, it's going to smell like a stuffy locker room and sweaty humans. If that's the kind of thing that bothers you a lot, you might want to bring your own scented towel. Here's how you do that: You get some cheap washcloths or hand towels at Wal-Mart or a similar inexpensive store. Soak the towel in a bowl, add a few drops of an essential oil you like (I'm a fan of citrus or lavender). Swish the towel around to incorporate the essential oil. Wring out the towel and dump the water. Put the thoroughly wrung-out towel in the freezer overnight. Before Yoga, put your frozen smell-good towel in a Zip-Loc bag and take it with you. Keep your wet towel off the studio's wood floors, it stays on the Zip-Loc or your mat. It will come to room temperature all too soon, but it will continue to smell nice for you when you need to wipe the buckets of sweat off your face.

In conclusion, my long story short for hot Yoga is this: Some people swear by hot Yoga and totally love it. I have taken some hot classes with instructors who I absolutely loved. However, for me, the hot room magnifies the little things that would bother me in any class. I can forgive it when I'm in a cool room, but apparently the heat makes me too cranky to get over it. So my advice is this: Find a Yoga studio you really like. Try some cool classes. Find a teacher you really like and whose style you respect. If that teacher also teaches in the hot room, try his/her class there. If that studio offers a beginner hot class, try that one too. Hydrate very well for 12-24 hours before a hot class. Make sure your pee flows free and clear before you step on the mat. Sip water during class. Drink up after. Bring a change of clothes with you for after class if you don't like to feel sticky and clammy. Lastly, keep an open mind. If you go once and don't like it, try another class, another instructor, another studio. Give it at least five tries before you decide it's not for you.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

My spin cycle journey

If you work in a gym, or go to a gym, you probably know there are like 95 spin classes every day. If you don't, you might be wondering what spin is.

Spin is indoor cycling, in case you have lived in a closet or studiously avoided all semblance of athletics for the past 30 years. Spin bikes are stationary bikes with a dial that ratchets up resistance, just like an outdoor bike going into higher gears up a hill. My 87 year-old mom might ask, "Why don't you just ride your bike outside?"

Well, lots of reasons. First, I like to check out the other humans in the class. There are some attractive people in spin classes. I also enjoy group exercise, because I tend to get more carried away when I work out with others. We also have thumping music in spin class, so you can sing along and shoulder-dance (if you have the cardio capacity to spare). And you burn a whole heck of a lot of calories.

I also think that most gyms design their spin rooms to be little hot boxes that cause people to sweat off about 30 lbs per class, so we feel like we've really done something when we leave. The dudes usually leave sweat puddles under their bikes. I'm not that efficient at sweating, so don't puddle up like that. (By the way, dudes, mop up your sweat puddles with the antiseptic spray and wipes. We like a spin room that doesn't smell like sweat bacteria).

Anyhow, I teach yoga and some cardio classes at a couple of gyms, and I have asked my mentors what certifications I should add to my repertoire. "We always need spin," They told me. So I signed up for a spin certification in August. Now my goal is to take as many classes as I can manage between now and then so I don't die in the training. There will be two master classes in one day, and one spin class is pretty intense.

The first class I took, the instructor helped me adjust my bike, but he got my seat so high that the seat was way jammed up in my rear for all but the standing segments of class. By the way, in my mother's generation, the technical term for rear end is "hoo-ha." I just thought I'd mention it, since I already brought up my mom. Anyway, by about 20 minutes into class, my hoo-ha had totally lost all circulation. let me tell you, that's an interesting sensation when the feeling starts to come back. Ahem.

Anyway, that class was pretty good, and my spin journey continued. Took a few more classes and decided to invest in some spin shoes. If you don't know, spin shoes have hard soles to distribute the pressure through your whole foot, so it's not just the ball of your foot that hurts by the end of class, but the whole thing. They also have cleats on the bottom that attach to the bike. This allows you to make your muscles work harder on both the down stroke and the upstroke so that you can hurt twice as bad by the end of class--I mean, so that you can get a more efficient workout and burn more calories! Except no one in North America will sell you bike shoes with the cleats already attached. You have to buy them separately and attach them yourself.

This is one of those little things that really separates people who have been engaged in an activity forever from the newbies. Kind of like trying to sew the ribbons on pointe shoes or put on football pads. Some people just seem to be born with this knowledge, and then there's the rest of us. Of course there are YouTube videos, but to complicate matters, there are two types of cleats (Delta and SPD), so you have to make sure you get the right type of shoe for your what the bike has.

I am an introvert, so of course I hate asking people for help. I consult the Internet when I have questions. So I bought my shoes from Zappos. The description and the reviews said they were compatible with either type of cleat. Long story short, they lied. It took me about two hours, lots of YouTube, 6 shots of tequila and a few broken widgets to realize the shoe and the cleats and the bike would never ride together. But it's all right. Zappos does free shipping both ways.
The Bontrager Women's Mountain Shoe

I finally went to an actual bike shop, talked to an actual person, and bought some in-person shoes. I have a picture here of the shoe I finally bought. These are more boring than the original ones I had to send back. But that's life. Sometimes you end up with the boring shoe that actually works.

For the trial run of getting the shoes to clip into the pedals, my husband chose the early morning time of 8am, when I had a 9:15am class. At this time, I will try not to frighten you with mental imagery, but I had just gotten out of bed and was still in my pajamas. Not athletically attired. Our home spin bike (a cast-off from my gym, and a little rusty in the pedals due years of the aforementioned sweat puddles) was still on his setting, so it was super tall. So there I am, PJs, seat too high, no resistance on the gear, no idea what I'm doing, trying to chase the pedals, look at my feet, and, strictly by force of will, ask the cleats to snap in.

If you are having a hard time imagining how all this might work, then you are in exactly the same mental place I was. Tired. Mostly asleep. Really uncomfortable on an improperly set-up bike, and randomly wiggling my feet around, expecting some kind of "Wingardium Leviosa" thing to happen. It did not. What did happen was that my back started to spasm from being on a too-high bike seat and leaning too far forward over the handles, while having bad form and trying to look at my feet.

I never got my feet clipped in, by my back was jacked up for three days. I haven't had a chance to come back and play with the shoes and cleats again, but I have had the opportunity to watch some more YouTube videos*--and even talk to a person. The two bits of advice I have heard are, try WD-40 on the clips, and set the resistance on the bike as high as I can so I'm not just chasing the bike pedal around.

Meanwhile, I just wait for my back to recover. My first pair of shoes are safely back at Zappos now. And if all this takes long enough, I may even break down and ask one of my spin instructor friends for gasp actual help!

To sum this whole experience up in one small nugget of advice to anyone trying to decide on first-time spin shoes: Call a few nice bike shops in your town. Tell them where you take spin classes. Ask them if they can sell you both the shoes and the cleats, and extra-special bonus points if they can install the cleats for you. If they can, you have a winner. Go there straight away. Once you get your new shoes, don't be like me. Just ask your instructor for help from the beginning. They will be happy to help you, unless if they are total jerks, and if they are jerks, one wonders why you are taking their class to begin with 🤔.

Update: I tried the new shoes in spin class today. I was able to clip in left foot no problem, but the right wouldn't go. I did ask the instructor for help (yes, way!). All I needed to do was push my heel down harder and ta-da. I told her (Jesse Harris) that she was magical. The shoes did make the workout feel more efficient. I still wish I weren't the only one who sings and shouder-dances during my spin classes. I feel so weird and alone grooving by myself there in the back row. 

* Notes: This YouTube video was actually quite helpful in attaching the cleats:

And this one was pretty helpful in figuring out how to actually clip in, and also pretty entertaining:

Thursday, May 17, 2018

What kind of Yoga is right for me?

I have been teaching Yoga for a couple of years now, and one of the things I frequently say is that there are almost as many styles of Yoga as there are Yoga teachers. Every once in a while, I hear a story about a person who "tried Yoga once, but hated it."

I will share my first time Yoga story with you...Once upon a time, back in the sunny 1990s, I was at a Blockbuster Video store, and in the used/for sale section, I found a Yoga VHS tape. It was Raquel Welch. I was in college, and I ended up adoring that video. I took it back to school. Raquel took me through a challenging practice. I went from never having heard of a single Yoga pose to eventually feeling confident in poses like shoulder stand and hand-to-big-toe. I LOVED it, and I LOVED Yoga!

Being a poor college student, I had neither the money nor the time to go take real yoga classes. Once I graduated, I lived in a small rural town that didn't have anything like a Yoga studio, and this was back in the mid-1990s, when such entities were still limited to the big cities. So I kept using my Raquel Welch VHS and added a few others to my collection.

Eventually, my local gym offered a special one-time only Yoga workshop. I was so excited! I loved Yoga! I arrived and found a packed class, and I was enthusiastic, because this might mean we had enough interest to sustain regular Yoga classes. We began with a warmup that seemed very familiar, but after about 30 minutes, the instructor informed us that we would be doing lots of partner work.

In all my VHS work, I had never been asked to work with a partner. And although I attended this gym regularly, I did not know anyone else in the class. Everybody else seemed to have buddies, and people partnered up right away. I felt like the last kid picked for a class in gym, standing by myself, and I tried to imagine leaning back-to-back with a total stranger, or holding hands and stretching into a straddle. It was just not my bag.

Faced with the likely option of having to work directly with the instructor, since partners were scarce, I picked up my mat and shoes and slithered silently toward the door. The instructor could have just let it go, but she did not. In a loud voice, which I perceived as sarcastic, she announced, "Well, thanks for joining us!"

I still remember her name was Deb. I never took another one of her classes. She is not the only instructor I remember for the wrong reasons. But I do often think of her, and I think, what if that had been my very first introduction to Yoga? What if, little old shy me, had wondered in off the street and thought that that's all that yoga was?

So I try to remember to tell people, especially newbies, "If you don't like my class, don't say you don't like Yoga. Try another class. Try at least 10 classes with 10 different people in different places. Try short and long, hot an cold, Vinyasa and Yin, and then you can say you don't like it, but give it a fair shot first."

So, to address the title of my post, what kind of Yoga is right for me? The reason I chose to write this is that I often run into new Yogis whose doctors have told them they ought to be doing Yoga. And I am so thankful that physicians are spreading the word! But if you have a bad back and are just recovering from an injury, you probably do not need to be doing the super-Intense Vinyasa flow class.

Steps to determining the right class for you:

  1. Call the studio ahead of time. If you plan to go to an actual yoga studio, the person answering the phones should be able to gather enough information from you to direct you to the right class. If you are going to a gym, you may need to dig a little deeper. 
  2. If you are just starting out, look for a "gentle" or "hatha" yoga. This is one place where you don't want to let your pride get on the way. You can get plenty of workout and stretch in a  gentle class, and it can really help you learn proper form and breathing before you move into a faster-paced class.
  3. If you like to move a lot, try Vinyasa. If you think Yoga moves too slow, look for a Vinyasa or Power yoga.
  4. If you just want the stretch and nothing else, look for a Yin Yoga class. Yin is totally focused on long, slow holds, is great for stress management, and excellent for athletes who push themselves several days of the week and just need a break every once in a while. 
  5. Hot or cold? Heated yoga is the hot trend, and lots of people love it. If you go, just be sure to drink plenty of water starting several hours before the class (as in, if it's a morning class, hydrate well the night before and allow yourself time to drink a big glass of water at a leisurely pace before class). Sip, don't chug, during the class, and re-hydrate well after the end. Be sure to bring a nice, clean change of clothes for after. I literally look like I jumped in a pool after a hot yoga class, and don't really want to put my sweaty body back in my car.
  6. If you are new, and your gym or studio offers a Beginner class, or even a Chair class, try it out when you get a chance. Your ego may want you to push hard all the time, but it can be a great learning experience to start at the beginning and take things slow. I taught Chair yoga for a year or so, and I was always able to vary it to the level of the class, hopefully your instructor will, too.
  7. Lastly, if your doctor recommended that you take Yoga, make sure your instructor knows that at the beginning of the class. Tell the instructor what special issues you have. If you have a lot of concerns, you can always ask about one-on-one Yoga training so that you can get a whole workout plan tailored 100% to your personal needs.
Thanks so much for reading with me until the end. I teach Yoga several times a week in the Stafford and Fredericksburg, Virginia, area. If you are interested in joining me for group or private lessons, please reach out. I would love to work with you!

Namaste, friends!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Depression, weight loss, weight gain

I find it interesting and rather frustrating that when our little animal bodies go through times of stress, we release a hormone called cortisol, which (among many other things) makes us want to eat carbs[1]. Another thing cortisol does is increase our body’s tendency to store fat in our abdominal area. To put it in layman’s terms, when you get stressed out, you want to eat a whole bag of cookies and it all goes straight to your belly and/or thighs and butt. You probably already know that.

If we stay stressed for long enough without properly chilling out, cortisol has even worse effects on our systems. Eventually, chronic stress will take a negative toll on the digestive tract. Where once we craved the whole bag of cookies, eventually, it will become difficult to eat anything, and digestion and absorption become compromised. You probably already know this, too. At least once in your life, you may have sat down to dinner with a date who decided to start a fight as soon as the entrees arrived. The waiter sets the once-beautiful lobster/steak/pasta in front of you, now rendered totally inedible by argument. If not, consider yourself blessed. 

Once we reach this phase of stress, we may begin to drop some stress-related weight. I’ve been doing this for a few months now. My weight loss is still under 10 pounds, but I am a generally fit person not trying to lose a lot of weight, so it’s a little frustrating to me. Also annoying is the fact that cortisol doesn’t release its hold on abdominal fat just because it won’t let you eat. The net result is that I am dropping weight from around my already scrawny lower-legs and upper chest, while my belly and butt hold onto it tightly.

If I were to continually repeat this stress cycle over the course of my life, I imagine that I would eventually end up looking like a potato propped up on toothpicks. 

I searched the Internet for a plan to combat the potato-toothpick outcome, and I could find nothing specific. Most of the Internet’s advice was geared toward managing the symptoms of depression (see a professional therapist) and keeping down weight gain (get exercise). All good advice, but it didn’t really address the stress-related weight-loss issue. 

So as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor, I will offer my personal plan of attack to manage this moment that I’m going through, just in case it helps anyone else: 
·     Unwind at the gym. Make sure your exercise includes a mind-body/stress management element like Yoga or Tai-Chi. 

  • ·     Focus on moderate-intensity exercise. High intensity exercise is fun, but it adds stress to the body, and releases more cortisol into the blood.
  • ·     Take group classes. It’s good to be in a group with other people, especially when you are feeling down, and even when you don’t really feel like it.
  • ·     Lift weights. Weight lifting will help build or maintain muscle mass to keep the body from cannibalizing its own muscle mass if you aren’t eating properly. In my personal anecdotal experience, moving weight is also an excellent appetite stimulant. Again, don’t go crazy. Focus on moderate weight and increase gently over time to avoid injury, and adding additional stress and cortisol.
  • ·     Make your meals a sanctuary. Allow yourself a half-hour of quiet, stress free time for each meal. If that means you need to eat alone and lock yourself in a storage closet with a candle and Spotify’s Deep Sleep Playlist, do it. You deserve time to digest without conflict.
  • ·     Plan easily digestible meals. I am a huge fan of smoothies, because I feel like the cold, semi-liquid ingredients can slide in between the most stressed-out intestines. However, commercially prepared ones can be loaded with sugars and low in nutritional quality. Half a banana, a milk of choice, and a scoop of protein powder tossed together with a few ice cubes in a blender will keep you moving for a few more hours. Add avocado for some healthy fats, greens if your tummy can tolerate them, maybe a beet if you are feeling wild and crazy. Following is a link to some clean-eating smoothie ideas. All very simple and low-sugar:
  • ·     Plan easily made meals. If you are already dealing with depression and stress, you know you aren’t actually going to cook the five-course meal, no matter how great it looked on the Food Network. Keep the meal plans simple, and there’s a greater chance you’ll make the food. You can toss a family pack of chicken thighs in the slow cooker with salt and pepper on Sunday, and do absolutely nothing else to it for 5 hours, and you’ll have proteins for the week. Buy few types of vegetables (broccoli, potatoes, sweet potatoes) that you can microwave or roast to go along with it, and that’s dinner in a few minutes all week long. I pull a lot of meal plans from I like how they organize them so that breakfast, lunch and dinner use many of the same ingredients, which is efficient and economical, and none of their meals take terribly long to make. 

My final piece of advice for managing depression and weight loss and gain? Don't feel like you have to keep it a big secret. You don't need to tell everyone all the details of what you are going through, but you can tell your friends that you are having a rough time, and let them know what you need. Like, "Hey, friends, I am really stressed out, and it would help me if you would come to yoga with me to give me some motivation to get there."
Meanwhile, if anyone would like to come to yoga with me, I teach like 5 times a week, so just ask, and I'll tell you where I am. And we can just breathe together.

Namaste, friends!

[1]Dina Aronson, MS, RD, Today’s Dietitian 
Vol. 11 No. 11 P. 38, Cortisol — Its Role in Stress, Inflammation, and Indications for Diet Therapy

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Things to do when you’re feeling down

You have probably seen some sort of TV or cartoon depiction of a little angel sitting on a person’s shoulder, and a tiny devil with pitchfork on the opposite shoulder. They are both whispering advice as the person tries to make a decision. Usually it’s about whether to get the fries or a salad. I don’t think that angels and devils interact with us quite like that, but we all do have some internal conversations going on throughout the day. I have noticed in myself that sometimes the loudest and most insistent voice is absolutely the wrong one.

Bad ideas from the loud voice:

  •     Take another shot of tequila!
  •      Eat all the chocolate!
  •      Ask him out for drinks!
  •      Avoid people today!

Okay, there are times and places where all these things are fine, but in the particular situations I’m thinking of in my life, each of these loud-voice-influenced decisions began a series of unfortunate events.

Sometimes, when we’re feeling depressed, the absolutely last thing we want to do is crawl out of bed. If we make it to the bathroom, we think we’ve made some great progress. The idea of being around other people at times like that is nearly impossible to imagine. All we want to do is curl up in bed, maybe sit in the dark and ruminate about the unfortunate circumstance that is life. If there is chocolate (or whatever binge food you prefer) in the house, so much the better. The loud voice tells you to eat it. Eat it all. Stay in bed.  Drink the booze. Take the pills. Don’t answer the phone. Don’t call your friends.

Somewhere inside, there is a quiet voice telling us this course of action will only make things worse, but the idea of going outside and taking a walk or calling friends to come over is just too much. So I have put together a list of achievable goals for days when we’re feeling really down. If you can accomplish some of the things, you might be able to feel a little better tomorrow, instead of making the situation worse.

Things to Do:

  •      Take a bath. Put your body in the tub. Run some hot water. Bath salts and bubble bath are awesome, but if you don’t have that, at least your body will be clean, and this is something relaxing and restorative to do for about 20 minutes.
  •     Lay on the floor with your feet up on a wall for 5-10 minutes. This is very low effort. It’s more comfortable on a carpeted floor, but if you don’t have carpet, you can put a blanket under yourself.
  •      Listen to some classical music. You’re probably online: you can go on YouTube and find whole channels of free music that will play for extended periods of time. You can look up “music for depression” or “uplifting music.” Try to avoid any music that makes you depressed or anxious.
  •       Eat something that grew out of the earth. Whatever you like: banana, apple, nuts, oranges. These items take zero work to prepare, and will help your body repair itself. Find a simple thing in your kitchen. If you don’t have a fruit or a vegetable in the kitchen, this is a great time to call up a friend and say, “I am feeling down. Could you bring me a banana?” The banana will be nicer to you than the quart of ice cream.
o   On a side note, if you really don’t have any plant-based foods in your kitchen, the next time you feel well enough to get to the store, buy a stash of healthy things that last a while, like frozen fruits. You can make them into a smoothie or just take them out, let them thaw, and eat them.

  •       Call a nice friend. You don’t have to tell them you’re feeling down. Just tell them you called to check on them and ask them how their day is going. Maybe their talk will distract you for a while. At times like this, be sure to think about who you are calling—someone who is interested in your well-being and who doesn’t make you feel worse. You might want to call your ex or that frenemy who always puts you down—instead, call someone kind and upbeat who generally makes you feel better.

The goal here is to avoid making things worse by drinking, overeating, or talking to people who affect you negatively. As you start to feel a little more together, maybe in a day or two, take stronger actions, like taking a walk outside. Go in person to a restorative/gentle yoga class. Take any exercise class, or go to a gym with people in it. By moving, we get ourselves out of our heads and into our bodies. If we can find a place with people, it also helps alleviate that sense of isolation that compounds depression.

Once you’re really feeling energetic, plan out a week’s worth of healthy meals and go shopping.

Find a group or organization that needs your help, like a homeless shelter or animal shelter. Volunteer your time to take some of your focus away from your internal dialogue.

When you’re feeling good, try spending a few minutes a day in meditation. I didn’t recommend this at the beginning because, at least in my own head, my meditation gets very melancholy when I’m feeling down, so that’s not really the place I want to start. But when you are feeling well, you can try setting aside a few minutes of quiet time a day to take a mental inventory of your life. Focus, one-by-one, on things for which you are thankful. Mentally reach out to people you care about, sending positive thoughts their way for a moment or two. Try to cultivate a sense of gratitude. If you start the practice when you are feeling well, it can become a healthy and grounding practice even when you’re feeling down. The next time you feel depressed, you might even be able to think of a few things you are grateful for. Some days, that list might be very short. For example, “I am thankful I am not on fire.” However short the list, it is a place to start.

Remember, no matter how bad you feel, tomorrow is another day.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

DanceFXBG and LindyintheBurg: Updates and Changes

Lots of things have changed in our dance world over the past few months.

First off, we are now the proud parents of a bouncing baby dance studio! We have signed the lease on 1145 Jefferson Davis Hwy, the spot that used to be DanceTrance, and where we have had our dances and lessons for most of 2016. Our new business name is DanceFXBG.

We are using a spot that was once a DanceTrance studio, and their old sign is still there. But our new DanceFXBG sign was just approved by the city, so it will be installed soon. In the meantime, if you are trying to find us, that's where we'll be. Right across from the Hyatt hotel in Eagle Village, conveniently located walking distance from the University of Mary Washington and Blackstone Coffee.

Our class offerings are in the process of a major overhaul. You can check the calendar on to see what we have in October, but we are looking to expand the course offerings in November and in the new year, bringing lots of fun dance styles and dance-related fitness classes to the studio. Right now, in addition to our swing dance classes and Saturday dance parties, I teach BarreBody (a fusion of Ballet, Yoga and Pilates) and Yoga a few times a week.

We have subcontractors using the space who teach square dance, line dancing and hip-hop. On Wednesday nights, we have a ballroom dance instructor doing drop-in lessons. Later in October, we will start offering belly dance. In November, jazz fusion for kids.

We are actively seeking new dance forms and instructors for the studio, so if you have any ideas or know of a group that needs a place to dance in Fredericksburg, please send them our way!

In the coming weeks, our social media and messaging will be changing over to DanceFXBG, but it's still the same super-fun, family-oriented, socially engaging thing it's always been.

Thanks for all your awesome support over the years, and I hope to see you at a dance or class some time soon!