Tag Archives: Yoga

You Had Me at Namaste

It’s a very simple scene.

Me: Shopping for some curtain rods in Bed, Bath and Beyond over the weekend.

Two Women: One pushing a shopping cart alongside the other. 

Woman #1: “What does namaste mean?”

Woman #2: “I think it’s something like ‘the light in me honors the light in you.'”

*Long Pause*

Two Women: Laughing insecurely and hysterically.

Here’s why this scene knotted my insides. And here’s what namaste means and why it’s not really a laughing matter…

 

 

When I studied yoga in India, I found it fascinating that people would greet one another with the phrase “Hari Om.” The direct translation of this Sanskrit is broken into two parts: Hari relates to the Hindu God Vishnu who is considered “a remover of sins or bad karma,” and Om is considered a sacred syllable that encompasses the entirety of creation from start to finish. As yoga teachers-in-training we were told simply that the phrase loosely means “remember God.” And so, every asana practice (physical poses of yoga) began and ended with this phrase, reminding students from all around the globe and of various belief systems that the divine exists within the physical.

“God” doesn’t seem like a topic that has to do with fitness and wellness but that’s actually a false notion. One of the six branches of wellness is spiritual wellness. It’s as fundamental to our overall well-being as physical and emotional wellness. Just as important as our careers. As essential to our vitality as having a healthy network of friends and family to lean on. In my opinion, even though I consider myself a Christian and could preach on the merits of Christ, not every person has to share similar beliefs to access higher spiritual energy and fulfillment. By keeping our spiritual dimensions awake – whatever they are – we pave the way for better health and improved healing, patience, gratitude and joy.

 

 

When I heard the two women shopping at Bed, Bath & Beyond, laughing at the meaning of “namaste,” a part of my heart broke for them. The fact that they scoffed at a word that means spiritual and mutual respect for other humans and the places within ourselves that are deeper, truer, and purer than the surface, is upsetting to me. Not because I was offended by these women but because I see how much more one can gain in health when these deeper layers within can be unearthed. Looked at without fear and insecurity. These women both appeared to be suffering from various physical ailments and I wondered if they opened themselves up to being vulnerable with a higher power if their health might begin to move in a new direction.

Other rough translations and interpretations of the word “namaste” include:

“I honor and appreciate you”

“The divine in me honors the divine in you”

“I bow to you in respect”

“We are equals”

“Whatever is beautiful in me honors whatever is precious and beautiful in you”

 

In Western cultures, namaste has become synonymous with a feeling of relief at the conclusion of yoga class, a feeling of appreciation for the teacher or gratitude for the brief span of time carved out from life’s busyness to exercise and stretch. The word has become so popular and, at times, generic, that word-play t-shirts are now sold with phrases like “Namaste in bed today” and “You had me at Namaste.” It’s cool that the phrase is becoming less obscure but, as we all know, anything that becomes mainstream can lose a bit of its origins. And namaste’s origins start and end with something intangible and within. The invisible lines that connect us. That level the playing field of our bodily struggles, making us all the same.

 

 

Let’s not forget these lessons in our haste or quest for higher physical beauty and fitness.

Namaste to you.

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

 

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The Best Indoor Exercise for Winter

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When it comes to exercise, I’m wary of using overarching phrases like “the best” and “the ideal solution” because each person’s body has its own unique demands and needs. Forgive me for making an exception to my rule. Today, I’m going to tell you that I think this specific exercise can be enjoyed by the vast majority of people and can offer a plethora of benefits, especially during the more sedentary winter months. It’s quite simple to learn and has a variety of ways it can be done to offer you whatever you need in the way of stretching, toning and/or cardio. Bonus: No equipment needed! I’ve also included two 4-week workout plans; one for beginners and another that is more advanced. So, what is this mysterious exercise? Time to find out… sun salutation

…SUN SALUTATIONS!!! Whether you’re a yoga-lover or scared to death of spending time on the mat reaching for your toes (they seem so far away sometimes!), sun salutations are a great way to start or end your day. You can limber up with just a few rounds of sun salutations (also called Surya Namaskara in Sanskrit), a process that can take anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes, or you can devote a longer amount of time to them for additional stretching, toning or cardio benefits. Yoga teacher Krishan Verma said, “It is better to practice daily for 20 minutes than to practice for an hour occasionally.” The beautiful thing about sun salutations is that you CAN reap benefits from them very quickly, so you can easily do them every day – no hour-long gym sessions or equipment needed!

What is Surya Namaskara?

“Surya” means “sun” to Hindus and is revered as the center of the physical and spiritual worlds. Sun salutations are a sequence of asanas (physical poses) intended to salute or show respect to the sun. Some texts claim that the sequence originates as far back as Vedic times, approximately 2,500 years ago. Western cultures adapted the practice in the early 1900s and now people of all different spiritual practices from around the world enjoy it as a physical exercise and outward expression of the desire to connect deeper within. Here is a quick video from a yoga school in Brooklyn which shows how to perform the poses…

Tutorial Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=73sjOu0g58M

*I love this video because it takes people through the full traditional sun salutation and how to make each pose work for them. The only thing I don’t like about this tutorial is that it doesn’t show harder modifications of the lunge (with the knee lifted), full chatturunga and upward facing dog. Feel free to choose these harder modifications in the sequence if you are experienced and know them.

Why is Surya Namaskara so ideal for winter months?

  • It’s all about focusing on the warming energy from the sun – something we need to harness during the cold and dismal winter!
  • It doesn’t require equipment
  • It doesn’t require space
  • It can be done at different tempos to meet needs for relaxing, stretching or strengthening
  • It helps give a full-body stretch to weary limbs and rigid spines that are tight and fatigued from long hours inside and sitting
  • It can be done in just a couple of minutes or a longer stretch of time like 20-60 minutes
  • It helps clear the mind
  • It connects you with your breath – bringing awareness to the breath in general can help you calm down during tense moments of the day
  • It tones muscles that might be otherwise neglected while the tennis racquets, swim goggles, hiking boots and soccer shoes sit in the closet waiting for warmer weather

 

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BEGINNERS SUN SALUTATION WORKOUT PLAN:

This plan is ideal for anyone looking to limber and find a little energy to start the day. It’s simple and fast but just tough enough that committing to it takes effort.

Week 1: 5 Sun Salutations/day

Week 2: 10 Sun Salutations/day

Week 3: 15 Sun Salutations/day

Week 4: 20 Sun Salutations/day

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ADVANCED SUN SALUTATION WORKOUT PLAN:

This plan requires a lot of commitment and work but can leave a person feeling very accomplished and in great shape. I have built the plan around the goal of accomplishing 108 sun salutations on the final day. 108 is considered a holy number according to several religions and is meaningful in science, literature, martial arts, sports and more. For this reason, many schools of yoga will use 108 as a goal for the sun salutation practice.

                                                             Week 1: 10×2, 15×2, 20×2, REST

Week 2: 20×2, 25×2, 30×2, REST

Week 3: 40×2, REST, 50×2, REST, 60×1

Week 4: 70×1, REST, 80×1, REST, 40×1 REST 2-3 days

Final: 108 Sun Salutations

My highest hope is that in performing this practice you can find new energy and happiness! Connect with your breath, find the rhythm in your body and get lost in this sequence! Ommmm….

Namaste!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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The Fitness Industry Landscape and How It Impacts Your Health and Body

Fitness trends are always fun to talk about…like is the bosu ball dead and is HIIT still hot? But, these are easy, high-level topics to explore. Today, I’d like to take you deeper. I’m using my inside knowledge of the industry to explain how the overall landscape impacts you, the fitness enthusiast. These are not trends, they are industry truths, and they have stronger implications for your health and body than the latest craze or funky piece of exercise equipment.

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Market Competition is High but Barrier to Entry is Low

Opening up a fitness business isn’t the most complicated thing in the world. Personal trainers and “fitpreneurs” open their own studios all the time. In urban hubs it may even feel like new gyms pop up every season…and just as quickly shut down. Startup costs for a gym or studio space don’t have to be astronomical, especially for exercise formats like yoga and dance which don’t require costly equipment. This makes it easy to enter the fitness industry market.

Although, just because it’s easy to play the game, doesn’t mean it’s easy to win it. Most studios and gyms have to make a solid return on investment within the first two to three years to stay fiscally fit. Marketing dollars must be spent wisely and word-of-mouth reputation counts a lot towards success in this industry. A lot of fitness professionals turned small-business owners lack marketing and IT support, and spread themselves too thin trying to learn new skills to grow their businesses. In short, if a gym isn’t growing, it’s probably going…down the drain, that is.

What does this mean to YOU, the consumer?

If you’re in love with a gym or studio, invite friends to work out with guest passes and/or invest in a special training promotion from time to time. Even the most impressive establishments can go belly-up in this competitive industry. Success almost entirely rides on how well an establishment is supported by the community it serves (and vice versa). Unfortunately, the less financial flexibility a gym has, the longer it will take to refurbish worn out equipment and the less likely it is to offer fun membership perks and add-ons which can enhance your experience and encourage you to attend more regularly. And regular attendance is key to your fitness goals’ success! 

Industry Concentration is Low

As much as the household names of Anytime Fitness, Gold’s Gym, Planet Fitness, Equinox and CrossFit are top-of-the-mind in the fitness community, these companies don’t entirely run the show. The top 50 fitness companies have less than 30% market share. This means that there are a LOT of individually operated businesses or “one-offs” and small chains. It’s hard to project what direction the industry is headed, but it’s interesting to know that right now even the top dogs are battling to get ahead.

What does this mean to YOU, the gym member? 

There are going to be more fitness establishments with less brand recognition than there are well-known chains to choose from. This means that you need to do your due diligence and research them wisely. Your fitness decisions should be made based on convenience, cost, time, enjoyment, motivation, efficiency, community and/or professionalism and knowledge of instructors/trainers. I know, that’s a LOT of information to process. 

Your body and health will benefit most when the majority of the aforementioned factors are satisfactory or excellent in your eyes. You won’t reach your goals very quickly if you hate the workout program you’ve committed to. You will quickly lose out on a fitness community if you invest in a gym outside of your budget and quit it within six months. You won’t be intrinsically motivated to participate in group classes if you lack respect for the instructors who are teaching them. You get the idea. Do your homework on both the well-known chains and lesser-known “mom and pop” studios so that you find one that will harmonize with all (or at least most) of your needs. That’s the first step to ensuring you stick to your fitness aspirations.

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Boutique Studios Rival Big-Box Gyms

Over the last five years, the fitness industry landscape has undergone a major overhaul. Big-box gyms with all-inclusive monthly memberships were rivaled for the first time by boutique fitness studios specializing in exercise-specific formats. Boutique studios opened doors for fitness fans eager to participate in everything from barre class to pole-dancing and Zumba to trampoline workouts! The studio offerings grew more diverse and expansive by the season (or so it seemed).

Studios offer fitness enthusiasts low-commitment participation. In other words, people can usually pay for a single class pass (instead of a monthly membership) or a discounted bundle of classes, without any other fees or obligations. This is highly desirable to the growing crop of millennials who seek diversity in their workout regimens. This trend has given rise to ClassPass and has forced big-box operators to carefully consider investments in technology and marketing campaigns to remain competitive. Small studios, with their lower overhead costs and pay-as-you-use plans, have certainly stirred the pot.

What does this mean to YOU, the exerciser?

For starters, you definitely have a LOT of options these days when it comes to fitness. No longer are you relegated to the treadmill. With so many choices, some individuals enter “decision paralysis.” They have a hard time deciding which environment and type of exercise is best for their fitness goals. While it’s definitely worth checking out a couple of studios and comparing pros/cons and overall costs to their big-box competitors, it’s also a good idea to make a firm commitment. Choose carefully and wisely, but at the end of the day, choose!!!

In order to see results from your sweat, you need to be in a consistent routine. Oftentimes, a consistent routine is best established when you have a “home base” or at least a written plan of how you will juggle time split between the private yoga studio down the block and the 24/7 all-access gym at your office. Don’t be dismayed by the options at your disposal – be empowered by them! Give any routine at least three months of solid effort to see if it works or if you need to scrap it and capitalize on some more free trials at other gyms (always fun).

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Loose Industry Regulations

Some industries are tightly regulated…the fitness industry is not one of them. While this affords professionals and businesses some degree of flexibility, it carries implications for quality assurances. For example, CrossFit, a gym with over 10,000 affiliates that boast unique high-intensity workouts, is a licensed operation, not a franchise. What this means is that at one location you may have outstanding fitness professionals who know how to design excellent exercise programs and who are capable of coaching proper form for Olympic lifts (frequently used by CrossFits) and at another location you may have inexperienced or underqualified professionals. There are many governing bodies, doctors and exercise physiologists who are concerned by these discrepancies in professionalism and, in Washington, DC, these concerns have spawned discussions to enact regulatory measures on fitness operations. But, it’s not just a “CrossFit problem,” it’s the whole industry…

A lot of boutique brands train their professionals in-house, harvesting new instructors from their most loyal members. By training and converting devoted members and exercise participants into the leaders of the workouts, the fitness businesses are keeping pace with one of the most challenging aspects of operations; staffing. Unfortunately, this means that the instructor coaching you through a superset may only have a month’s worth of training under his or her belt, and the level of sophistication of that training is questionable too. As a professional who has held eight different widely recognized certifications in the industry, I can tell you firsthand that it’s too easy to get certified….way too easy. I’m ashamed to say it, but it’s true.

What does this mean to you, the gym rat?

I’m not sure that widespread regulations are the perfect answer to tighten up who operates in the fitness industry. I believe there are a lot of professionals out there who share this sentiment too. So, in the near term, it’s likely going to be left up to individual business owners to properly vet and monitor their instructors and trainers. While some will do a good job of this, others won’t. This puts the responsibility on you.

Gym rats and group exercise participants have every right to demand excellent instruction. If you don’t feel like you’re getting a safe and high-quality experience in your exercise setting, let a manager hear your complaint or concern. Don’t be afraid to speak to the instructor about their choices during or after class too. They will probably be happy to explain things and educate you! If they flounder in the face of a tough question, they probably aren’t very experienced or qualified and it becomes your responsibility to decide whether or not you can live with that. Personally, the second that I can tell an instructor is underqualified, I’m out the door. My hard-earned cash can go into someone else’s hands!

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Personal Trainers Lack Stability 

Personal trainers are rarely salaried employees. The vast majority of these professionals are compensated by the hour, based on commission. While some experienced professionals can pull six-figures in less than 30 hours of work a week, most professionals have challenges keeping a steady income. For example, a trainer can project that he is going to train 25 hours one week. Let’s say he only has a couple of years’ experience and is compensated $30/hour for his clients (his gym is skimming a lot more off the top from what the client pays). Based on these figures, he seeks to earn $750 for the week. This equates to a salary of $39,000 for the year, not including bonuses or performance incentives. Let’s pretend that he puts in a full 40-hour work week (not very commonplace in the industry). At full-time, he seeks to earn $1,200/week or $62,400.

To put it simply, the vast majority of trainers struggle to maintain schedules of 20+ hours of clients a week…and what happens when two or three clients who train twice a week each go on vacation? What about the fact that training under 30 hours a week leaves these professionals without time-off and health benefits? As you can see, while trainers are often envied for their “cool” jobs, they lack a lot of stability. For this reason, the turnover of professionals at any given establishment is pretty darn high.

What does this mean to YOU, the client?

To be honest, there isn’t a whole lot you can do except express a little bit on empathy and understanding. If you’re a paying client, try to show respect for your trainer’s time just as they show respect for yours. If you’re leaving town for a few weeks, give them as much advance notice as possible so that they can try to fill your training time slot with another person.

Moreover, as someone who pays for personal training, you have to decide whether or not you’re comfortable placing your investment into the hands of a newbie. As mentioned, the turnover of trainers is outstanding (in a crazy, not-so-wonderful way). Ask yourself if you want to give a worthy, aspiring professional a leg up or if you feel more comfortable with a professional who has been working in the industry for at least a few years. The choice is yours. Ultimately, if you find someone you jive with and respect, the decision should be seamless, in spite of how long they’ve been a fitness pro. For the record, I will always appreciate the people who were willing to take a chance on me when I entered the industry. 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

wellnesswinz blue sea

 

Different Types of Exercise: Pros and Cons

Exercise variety can maximize your health returns and reduce your risk of injury. On the flip side, focusing on one modality at a time can enhance your sport or exercise-specific performance. So, the decision is yours. Without further ado, let’s look at the pros and cons of focusing your physical efforts on endurance training, high-intensity interval training, Pilates, yoga, light weightlifting, and heavy strength training.

Pros & Cons Endurance

Endurance Training

Pros – Endurance training is when you exercise in an aerobic zone. This includes a wide range of movements and sports, from walking to riding a bike, and more. Generally speaking, when you’re exercising in this zone, you can sustain your effort for longer periods of time, possibly even while carrying on a light conversation. The ability to sustain energy in this zone means that you can oftentimes handle both longer workouts and more frequent endurance workouts. Either of these scenarios can help you stick to a training plan, burn calories and improve cardiovascular health. Endurance training is great for fat burning and individuals of all fitness levels.

Cons – Although endurance training usually yields fat-metabolism for fuel, too much of this exercise can also deplete muscle stores. This can happen when individuals overtrain, do not supplement their exercise with proper nutrition, and/or do not balance their regimens with strength training. Also, in recent history, there has been some evidence that extreme endurance exercise training may cause abnormalities in the heart. Hey! What do ya know? You don’t have to make yourself feel guilty for not being an ultra-marathoner! 

 

Pros & Cons HIIT

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

Pros – HIIT is an awesome, time-efficient way to get in your workout. It involves high-intensity bouts of exercise interspersed with moderate to light-intensity exercises for recovery. Not only is this exercise format a time-saver, but it also causes Excess Post-Oxygen Consumption (EPOC). EPOC is a term used to describe the extra oxygen that your body demands and consumes following rigorous exercises. While consuming this extra oxygen, your body’s metabolism is elevated. This means that you’re continuing to burn calories for as much as 36 hours following a HIIT workout! Not bad, I must say!

Cons – There is no standard formula for a HIIT workout, even though there are some commonly used routines (for example, a 2:1 work-to-rest ratio). This means that you could walk into an exercise class and be asked to perform any number of different exercise regimens. While this keeps things fresh and full of variety, it also means that unqualified fitness professionals could lead you – and your body –  astray. This is especially true if you’re a beginner or have a low level of fitness since HIIT is very intense, putting individuals at a higher risk for injury if left unsupervised or asked to perform exercises to the point of fatigue (which causes many people to lose form). My advice: trust your gut. Always recognize your right to step out of class or choose an exercise modification that better suits your needs, if you’re not comfortable. 

 

Pros & Cons Yoga

Yoga

Pros – Yoga is one of the oldest exercise practicies, dating back at least 5,000 years ago! Something with staying power like that is bound to be worthy of our attention, right?! Various yoga disciplines and formats can be great for different goals. You can attend a class that focuses on breathing and find that it helps you with stress management and mental clarity. You can also attend a power yoga class to exert some energy, challenge muscles and improve flexibility. Specific poses can improve your balance, core strength, hip flexibility, shoulder stability, and more.

Cons – The trickiest thing about yoga is finding a class that suits all of your physical, mental and spiritual needs. Certain westernized yoga practices focus more exclusively on the physical, while branches of Ashtanga yoga and Hatha yoga may take you a bit deeper. Some people love repeating mantras, learning sanskrit and being encouraged to do service yoga, while others just want to zone out during some sun salutations. Whatever your yogi-cup-of-tea, keep at it until you find one you love! A little research on the formats never hurts. One last thing worth noting though; you won’t have the same muscle and cardiovascular gains doing yoga as you will in other exercise formats. In fact, some people increase their risk of injury by doing prolonged stretches too often. So, since yoga is all about union and harmony, try to find some balance between your yoga sessions and other exercises each week.

 

Pros & Cons Pilates

Pilates

Pros – Pilates traditionally focuses on the core muscles, so anything between your hips and neck. This means that you will be extra vigilent in your awareness about proper posture and core control during one of these workouts. Pilates can be done on a mat, with or without props, and on specialized machinery (most commonly the reformer, cadillac and barrel). If you’re looking to achieve spinal alignment, Pilates is for you! If you’re eager to reduce back pain or increase your core strength, give it a try!

Cons – Several traditional Pilates disciplines focus on the same exercise series for every workout. While these exercises can be scaled for your fitness level, you may reach a plateau after regularly performing them. Some people feel that they don’t get great weight-loss or strength gains from Pilates. Thus, it’s important to get individual advice from your instructor on how to get the most out of each movement and/or how to find a new, more challenging (or less challenging) class. Another drawback worth noting is that it can be difficult to find affordable options for exercising on Pilates-specific equipment. Group classes on reformers are becoming more common and help reduce the costs of participation when compared with paying for one-on-one instruction, but they can be hard to find depending on the diversity of options in your neighborhood.

 

Pros & Cons Light Weightlifting

Light Weightlifting

Pros – Light weightlifting is a great way to workout on days when you don’t have a lot of energy or if you’re new to exercise. Lifting light weights will pump blood to your muscles and stabilize your body. It may also give you a little cardiovascular training effect. Lighter weights are also great if you’re recovering from an injury, tapering down your training regimen, or in need of practicing exercise form/technique before graduating to higher weight classes. These weights may be little, but they can lead to strength! Plus, little dumbbells are kinda cute, right?! Or is that really weird of me to say?…

Cons – While lighter weights are certainly the way to go when you’re learning a new exercise, they aren’t what you need forever. Unfortunately, a lot of women get into a comfort zone with 2.5-15 lb weights and fear that grabbing heavier weights will cause them to bulk up (which is not true…just read the next section below!). This can hold women back from gaining more muscle and reaping greater metabolic and strength benefits. Interestingly, only 10 reps or less is considered strength training – and that’s 10 hard reps, not casual ones. So, if you’re looking for more gains, you can’t pump out 15+ easy-to-moderate reps with five pounders forever. I know, I know, they’ll miss you too!

 

Pros & Cons Heavy Weightlifting

Heavy Strength Training

Pros – Strength training with weights that feel subjectively heavy to you is an excellent way to stimulate your body to adapt. It can lead to muscle gains, bone mass gains, increased metabolism, decreased risk of injury, improvements in joint health, and more! Strength training is an anaerobic activity. In other words, your body uses different energy for this exercise when compared with endurance training, which is aerobic (see explanation above). Perhaps the biggest bonus to strength training is the impact on your physique. That’s right, this exercise format more than any other can help you feel amazing in a strapless gown or bikini. Time to make friends with the barbell! 

Cons – Strength training is very technique-intensive. Without proper form you can easily go wrong in this exercise category. Also, various weight-lifting methods can be complicated to understand for the non-professional. Split training, progressive overload, periodization, and other approaches can feel confusing. This can discourage people who are looking for something effective and straightforward. Thus, if you’re interested in strength training and you’ve never worked with a professional, I suggest that you invest in a few training sessions and make your goals clear to the trainer you’re working with. He or she will respect your desire to get a “crash course” in weight lifting basics so that you can practice them on your own. The trainer can also help decipher what kind of regimen will be best for your body, goals, time commitment, and schedule.

 

Pick your exercise poison and enjoy! Just keep in mind that even if you’re an awesome marathon runner or a heavy-weight champ in the gym, you will need to build in what’s called taper or recovery weeks where you exert less effort and allow your body to restore. Generally, if we don’t balance out our training a little bit, the pendulum is liable to swing in a direction away from optimal performance (often into injury or fatigue).

Have another exercise format (or sport) you’re wondering about?! Fire away in the comments section or email me directly via the Contact form! I’m happy to answer questions about kickboxing, tai chi, skiing, cycling, contact sports, and more!

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

wellnesswinz blue sea

Powerful Yogi Wisdom

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When I studied yoga in India just over seven years ago, I learned yoga poses, breathing techniques, meditations, mantras, yoga nidra, sanskrit and much more. While these various aspects of yoga can definitely bring us closer to ourselves and to the divine, the life lessons that I learned while in the ashram far exceeded the sun salutations and omkar chants. In fact, one lesson in particular has resonated with me ever since then. I’d like to share this simple wisdom with you today because I believe it has the power to transform how we conduct our lives, and ultimately, how we find satisfaction [and wellness]. Ps – I hope you enjoy the handful of colorful and beautiful pictures I took of India during my stay. 

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Almost every day when I was in India, when the sun was supposed to be at its highest, monsoon rains would pour from the open skies. At this hour, my fellow yogis and I would gather in the shadowy yoga hall to sit at grade-school style desks. We would sit there for about an hour or two, absorbing our guru’s teachings while the rain drowned out the outside world. Guru was a short Indian man, often barefoot, and adorned in long robes. He talked with conviction as he paced back and forth in front of his students and wore a subtle grin that always made me feel like he saw both foolishness and wisdom in our youth and lack of experience.

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“Not all things can be explained,” he said one day. “This is not science.”  Raising one pointed finger in the air, he continued to enlighten us.

“Take this example. I know of a woman in the village. She comes to me one day with tears in her eyes and I ask her – ‘What is wrong, my friend?’ She tells me that she is dying. She has a bad cancer. The doctors tell her she will die. There is no chance she will live. And so she tells me that she is trying to accept that one day she will be dead. She is trying to accept that she is dying.

And this is what I tell her, I say ‘Go and meditate every morning at sunrise. Do your sun salutations. Thank God that you are alive. You are not dead. Only today exists and today you are not dead. You will only be dead if you let yourself die. Go and practice being alive. And be happy.’”

He paused again. His sleeve fell down his arm when he raised his pointer finger higher in the air.

“And you know what?!?” he had asked those of us sitting before him feeling foreign, naïve and perplexed.

“That woman no longer has cancer. A cancer doctor said such a thing would kill her quickly. That was 10 years ago! I tell you, I know this woman! She is alive to this day! All the tests, all the science show now that she is healthy. No signs of cancer.”

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The lesson from that day was “drop expectations.” This woman changed her focus from dying to living and altered her destiny. No matter what, whether your expectations are positive or negative, they have the power to own your mentality, and, if life comes up short, they can leave you feeling empty and dissatisfied.

I can’t say that dropping expectations has been easy for me, but every time I get my hopes up about something and my expectations aren’t met, it’s a little easier for me to stay open-minded and move forward. Life can continue and can be full of joy. This message isn’t to say that life should be banal, devoid of happiness or lacking ambition. It’s simply to say that life gets a whole lot easier when we learn to go with the flow rather than anchoring all of our hopes and happiness on a singular vision of how things should play out. Namaste.WW India 3

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

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Where Your Fitness Meets the Outdoors

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It’s my true pleasure today, to introduce you to Melanie Webb; Founder of Sol Fitness Adventures. When I first met Melanie I noticed her incredible energy, not to mention super strong body, and I thought, I want to be like her; tough but cool, successful but down to earth. Jury’s out as to whether I’ve succeeded in this, but she’s amazing, of that I’m sure.

Melanie has a fascinating career. She has been on Good Morning America, has received numerous industry awards, and formerly trained the Secretary of the Department of Defense. Contrarily, Melanie isn’t about the glitz and the glam. She cares most about getting people reconnected with their bodies through outdoor adventures. I encourage you to read this interview with her and to learn what Melanie’s brushes with death taught her. She will also walk you through the science behind how our bodies are connected to the earth and so much more!

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1) Why did you start a career in fitness?

I get so much enjoyment from being active – playing sports, exploring amazing outdoor places around the world, and working out. Helping others discover the joy of being in their own body and unleashing how powerful that energy can be – that’s the intention behind my fitness career.

I’ve always had an interest in the human body. My Dad taught high school Anatomy and Physiology and was a big proponent of women in science, so from the time I was little I was surrounded by textbooks and skeletons. On top of that I was an athlete and played every kind of sport. I was a 16-year-old volleyball player the first time I watched Tamilee Webb’s Buns of Steel and Kathy Smith’s Aerobox workouts – and I was hooked! (I think I just dated myself!). I wanted to be just like those ladies.

Somehow, I lost sight of my dreams after college. I traded one passion for another and took a job as a wildlife biologist for the State of Utah and worked to help save endangered fish species. Five years later I was an environmental consultant to the Federal Government in Washington, D.C. I was a Certified Personal Trainer with ACE during that time and saw a few clients, but I think I was worried about my ability to support myself full time as a trainer. Finally, I traded the government cubicle for the training studio and made the leap to train full time.

 

2) What’s the most powerful or life-changing experience you’ve had as a trainer?

Rather than any one moment or experience, it’s the overall personal growth I’ve experience as a result of interacting with people from so many diverse ages and backgrounds. I think it’s a mistake to think that the trainer is the only one who has something to teach in this dynamic. Especially when our older clients have so much life experience and wisdom to share.

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A few of my clients have become surrogate “parents” who’ve provided nurturing and emotional support during the good and the bad times. Others are irreplaceable business mentors and friends. A rare few have challenged me and pushed my buttons, causing me to have to weigh how much I want to suck it up in the name of being “professional” versus surround myself with people I like to be around. As I’ve gotten older and more sure of my own worth, both as a professional and a person, it’s become easier to walk away from those clients or situations that aren’t healthy for me.

 

3) Why did you decide to pursue starting your own business?

It took a number of years before I really committed to doing my own thing. I started leading fitness retreats several years before I quit training full time. My clients at The Sports Club/LA (now Equinox) in Washington, D.C. are the ones who gave me my start. They wanted to see their training applied to real life experiences, and they wanted a type of active vacation that nobody else was offering in 2007. Clients started hiring me to plan and guide their own private active trips. My first trips were to and Deer Valley and Zion National Park in Utah, and Machu Picchu, Peru.

Then something unexpected happened. I’d fallen into the trap of trading my lifestyle for making money. I was training six days a week, at least eight clients a day, and I finally burned out. I felt myself beginning to stagnate, feeling that I’d learned and accomplished all I could there.

After seven very successful years in D.C., I decided it was time to leave the East Coast and reclaim my lifestyle in the West. I ended up in Santa Barbara, California, a paradise of a place for an outdoor lover like myself, but quite possibly the most challenging work environment I’ve ever encountered. The place was still reeling from the market crash of 2008 and it was a difficult town to break into as a trainer. Nobody cared that I used to train the Secretary of Department of Defense or that I’d been on Good Morning America, they just wanted to know how cheap they could get a training session from me. There were too many “gatekeepers” to get through.

Sol Guide Title Page

Concept met reality. I was going for broke as a trainer and I had to do something different. Through word-of-mouth referrals, clients started hiring me to help them train for their big bucket list adventures – like climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and competing in the Baja 1,000 off-road race. Suddenly, I was able to take advantage of my surroundings and all of my career experience. My client’s training programs included hiking 14,000 foot peaks in the High Sierra’s and stand up paddling on the Pacific Ocean.

Around this time, an elderly client from D.C. checked himself into rehab in Beverly Hills so that I could be part of his team of healthcare professionals. On my first visit, he told me to give him my business plan because he wanted to give me money to start it! I was dumbfounded. I wasn’t even clear what that business should look like!

There’s no question in my mind that I owe my start in business entirely to my amazing clients who led me down this path. It’s because of them that I’m in the right place at the right time now.

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4) What is Sol Fitness Adventures all about?

Sol Fitness Adventures is my response to what I see as a big problem for a lot of us – we’re losing that wild, instinctive, very necessary connection to the outdoors. The clients I work with are looking for an experience that helps them live a lifestyle of activity. Something that makes them a better human being for having taken the journey. It’s a very niche space that we occupy, but it’s one that I think bridges that gap between the fitness and outdoor industries.

We create customized fitness retreats anywhere in the world, but primarily in Park City where I live and in southern Utah’s spectacular National Parks. Everyone wants to come here. My clients look 10 years younger when they leave than when they arrived.

 

5) What’s the coolest thing you’ve done with a Sol Fit group?

That’s a hard one! There have been so many fun trips. But I have to say, the cycling fitness trip Sol led last year to the Central Coast of California was pretty fantastic. A group of eight women from Colorado – all over the age of 60, I might add – spent six days road biking, working out, and enjoying the culinary and cultural highlights of the Santa Ynez Valley and San Luis Obispo. Everything went off without a hitch, nobody got injured, and the ladies pushed themselves. I enjoyed every minute working with them.

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6) How do you motivate people towards healthy living?

I try to live by example. The fact that I’m the happiest when I’m exercising or playing outside makes it easy. There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing. I think I’ve also overcome some physical injuries and illnesses that help me relate to people. They realize that I’m not just a skinny girl who this comes easy to, and I think that helps them believe that they can do it too.

Being so active can come at a price. I’ve had shoulder and knee reconstructions. I’ve been stitched up a number of times and last year I was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue. I fell prey to the same stressors my clients face and I was just pushing too hard. It was the reality check I needed to remember to prioritize my self-care. Good nutrition, rest, and setting limits on my workload and travel have helped me heal, but it’s something I have to stay on top of. Inside Tracker online helps me keep track of my nutrition, now that I’m no longer under a doctor’s care.

 

7) Have you ever had any moments that scared you or that pushed your body to its limits?

…How much time do you have? I’ve had so many encounters with physical harm it’s hard to pick just one. My Grandma used to joke that I’m the cat with 15 lives, because I’d already passed the nine…

Some of my scariest moments have been with water encounters. I love playing on the water, but it’s also this element that you just can’t control. Until you’ve spent enough time around it, it’s just really easy to make the wrong judgement call and make mistakes. It’s something I really envy of my “watermen” friends; those people who grew up on the coasts and have spent their lifetimes on the water.

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One of the most memorable of those encounters with death was a boat trip to Lake Powell during college. An afternoon storm blew in so quickly that we weren’t able to get off the water in time. The wind was blowing so loud that I couldn’t hear what the person next to me was screaming. White caps came over the bow and swamped the boat. We had to abandon ship and swim to shore. Once I washed up, I looked out to see the boat go under water and get swept away, stranding us. It was terrifying.

Another close encounter with “death by water” happened once while I was hiking the backcountry in Zion National Park. I ignored the dark clouds and got caught in a deep slot canyon in a torrential downpour. I’ve spent enough time in the canyons to know that rain that heavy can bring a flashflood within minutes. I was convinced that I’d said my last prayer, and I ran faster than I ever thought possible for about 4 miles before I felt the canyon walls were open enough. Minutes later, the flash flood came through, churning the color of dark chocolate milk and tumbling rocks and logs as it went.

Those were good experiences, for me to come that close to death. You don’t know what you’re capable of until you get tested like that. You learn that you have a strength that can get you through anything.

 

8) What’s next on the horizon for your career and/or goals?

I’m glad you asked! I just launched Sol Guide: Online Training for Your Next Outdoor Fitness Trip. Not everyone can afford to take a fitness retreat with Sol. But with Sol Guide, now you can learn how to harness the active outdoor lifestyle for yourself – anytime, anywhere.

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The online course teaches you how to plan your own fitness retreat, no matter where you live. There are 40 exercise videos, stress-reduction techniques, games for kids, outdoor safety and gear tips, and so much more. There’s even a business module for those who want to add a new revenue stream to their fitness or yoga practice.

By late summer we plan to host our first two-day teacher-training course here in Utah. The course will offer real, practical experience planning and leading a fitness retreat for individuals who want to get certified and/or take their leadership to the next level. Please feel free to sign up for our newsletter to stay informed on the dates!

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9) What evidence is there that the outdoors is good for our health?

Science is discovering so many amazing new things about our body and the human connection to the outdoors! Japanese scientists discovered that walking in a green forest drops systolic blood pressure six points, while walking in an urban environment elevates systolic blood pressure six points!

When you approach a large body of water, your brain releases large amounts of the “feel good” hormone oxytocin, the same hormone babies release when they see their mother’s face. A fantastic new book called Blue Mind by Wallace J. Nichols reveals the many ways that water is good for us.

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Also, did you know that the Earth has a magnetic frequency of 7.83 Hz? And the human alpha brain wave, associated with relaxation, is – get this – 7.83 Hz! I don’t think this is just a coincidence. In fact, I believe it’s part of the evidence that we come from this Earth, that we’re part of it, and that we need it for optimum health. You can do a search on the Schumann wave on NASA and read all about it.

There is so much more! Part of what I share in Sol Guide is how to harness these earth elements of Green Mind, Blue Mind, and Red Mind. You learn how to design a fitness adventure that leaves you not only more “fit,” but helps you tap into Earth energy for maximum health. This isn’t woo-woo stuff I’m talking about. The science is proving it and I see it in my clients on every trip. I’m excited to share this with more people. Thank you for reading!

 

If you’re feeling inspired, please stay connected with Melanie and Sol!

Instagram: @SolFitAdventure

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SolFitnessAdventures

Twitter: @SolFitAdventure

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/solfitadventure/

Sol Fitness Adventures: www.solfitnessadventures.com

Sol Guide: www.melaniewebbsolguide.com

Melanie – thank you for sharing with us! Now, when can we go backpacking?! Just a warning, if we run into bears, I will need your protection!
Yours in health and wellness,
Maggie
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The Nitty Gritty; Secrets The Pros Know That You Should, Too

There is a vast array of knowledge that fitness and health professionals keep tucked away in their brilliant brains. It’s disappointing that this information is either not shared or is not communicated in easy-to-digest pieces. For this reason, I’ve decided to put together a very small sampling of some of the most important, unexpected things to know about exercise. You will see a dramatic change in your body and confidence if you put these tips to action. Ready? Set? Let’s GO!

We will focus exclusively on the breath today. Yes, it’s that important…go figure. 

YOUR BREATH IS POWERFUL

Power of the breath

Any person with a brain in their head knows that not breathing will cause you to, um…die. Things just got serious. This fact alone shows us the power of oxygen. What some people don’t know is that we can manipulate the breath in a number of ways for exercise performance, metabolic changes, and peace of mind. Faster breathing impacts the sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight) and slower breathing impacts the parasympathetic nervous system (rest-and-digest). Different forms of exercise utilize various breathing techniques to activate one of these two systems. For example:

Swimming Breath

Swimming: Bilateral breathing is crucial for swimmers’ performance. As I’m not the most expert swimmer, I will allow Swim Smooth to explain: “Bilateral is swimming jargon for breathing to both sides, left and right. Classically this is done every 3 strokes (counting both arms) so your breathing alternates from side to side. But equally it could be done every 5 or even 7 strokes.”

Pilates Breath (2)

Pilates: I can remember my first Pilates class to this day. I had NO idea what was going on and figuring out the breathing completely boggled my mind. Various disciplines/formats of pilates even coach you to breathe differently. Some have you breathe in and out through your nose only (like in yoga) and others encourage you to inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. It can certainly be confusing for beginners. Make note of this: whenever you “pull in” or try to squeeze your abs in class is typically when you exhale. If you don’t breathe “perfectly,” don’t sweat it. The Pilates Police will never know.  

Running Breath

Running: Health and Fitness Director Budd Coates has brought increased awareness to rhythmic breathing in running over the past few years. To save you the stress of all the science (which exercise nerds like me love), I will explain it as succinctly as possible. When we run, we tend to use more energy from the dominant side of our body (probably the side of your body that you kick and throw a ball from). This creates extra stress on muscles on that side of the body and typically results in us exhaling as our dominant leg makes contact with the ground. At this point, the force that goes up into our bodies is 2-3x our normal body weight. To keep this stress more evenly distributed, rhythmic breathing helps runners learn how to sync their breath with their strides so that the exhalation is more balanced left-to-right foot strike, and stress is more evenly distributed.

Yoga Breath

Yoga: There are numerous breathing techniques in yoga. The breathing practice, Pranayama, is one of the most important and foundational components of Ashtanga yoga. When I was in yoga teacher training at Yoga Vidya Dham I learned about an instructor who practiced “fire breath” so much on his own that he both lost over 30 lbs and suffered from internal bleeding. He had to be rushed to a hospital for treatment. Unbelievable, right? When done properly, breathing techniques in yoga induce calmness, clarity of mind, and focus. There’s a little something for everyone and with experimentation and practice, you’ll find a technique that you love. This site has great, simple videos of some common techniques: http://www.doyogawithme.com/yoga_breathing

Quick tip: In yoga you are almost always exhaling as you bend or move forward, closing off your body in your mid-section. You almost always inhale as you open your body, bending backward or away from your mid-section. 

Exhale the sticking point

Lifting weights: It’s helpful to breathe slowly so that oxygen supplies “refill” your muscles, to the greatest extent possible, in between reps. This gives your body energy to keep going through the set. It also helps to exhale forcefully at the hardest point of each rep to push past what is called your “sticking point.” If you’ve ever tried to lift a heavy weight over your head and felt a point of resistance that was almost impossible to push past, you know where the sticking point is for that exercise. The same applies to all movements. Why does the forceful exhale help at this point? It helps because your diaphragm (which contracts and releases with your breath) is attached to a muscle in your core, the transverse abdominus. This muscle, when pulled in tight with an exhale, helps stabilize your body and thereby assists any lift you’re doing.  Just don’t forget to inhale too! Kind of important. When you’re not exercising the transverse abdominus acts like a gentle corset around your middle.

Now that you’ve WAY overthought various breathing techniques, remember to take a deep breath. Wink wink. With practice, you will get to where you want to be. It may take a while and at times, it might make you blue in the face, but sure enough, you will eventually be in full control of your breathing. Once you are, the power you have to stay composed during intense exercise will be incredible. You may also find that calming down your racing heart and shallow breathing is easier when your significant other forgets to pick up dry cleaning, your child cries bloody murder over a toy you refuse to buy, or your favorite pair of shoes is out of stock just when you need them most.

Stay tuned for tips similar to The Nitty Gritty! There’s plenty more of this good stuff in store for you…

Yours in health and wellness,

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References:

https://www.acefitness.org/certifiednewsarticle/684/ace-integrated-fitness-training-ift-model-for

http://www.ashtanga.com/

http://content.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,1827342,00.html

http://www.doyogawithme.com/yoga_breathing

http://karimfitness.com/

http://www.runnersworld.com/running-tips/running-air-breathing-technique

http://www.swimsmooth.com/bilateral.html#ixzz3P1NGLSuM

http://www.yogapoint.com/info/yvd.htm