The Six Commandments for Yoga Beginners

First, I want to say congratulations! If you completed the 30 Day Yoga Challenge, awesome. If you did not, that is okay! I started this challenge because I wanted to improve my posture and flexibility. Now that I have completed it, I have learned so much more. That being said, I feel it is important to share with you what I have gained, and I also want to thank those of you who have reached out to me with such kind words and inspiration.

The Six Commandments for Yoga Beginners

  • Yoga is not a race: When I first started the 30 Day Yoga Challenge, I had this idea in my mind that after one month, suddenly I would be able to bend like a pretzel and stand on my head. I don’t know if it was my Type A perfectionist personality or being slightly delusional, but I soon discovered that becoming an expert in yoga after 30 days is just not possible (and slightly insane). In fact, if you enter your own yoga practice with this idea in your mind, you are setting yourself up for disappointment and probably missing out on the actual benefits yoga provides.

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  • Be mindful: As a therapist, I often incorporate core mindfulness based skills into therapy sessions. These skills are derived from Buddhist traditions, but do not inherently contain religious practices. In short, it is a way of being in the present moment. It is a state of mind that allows you to be in the here and now, to fully participate and observe your own state of being, and to allow judgmental thoughts to float away so that you can be effective in getting what you want in your life. This, in my opinion, is the hardest part of yoga. Often times our thoughts, whether it be thinking about what we are having for dinner or the fight we just had with a loved one, distract us from the present. In order to fully practice yoga, mindfulness is key.  Savasana, also known as corpse pose, can be considered the most difficult pose in yoga, as it requires you to be completely mindful. Although, my cats beg to differ. Yes, there are three of them and yes, I am obsessed.

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  • Practice: Practice, practice, practice. Yoga is hard as all hell. I know that yoga instructors appear to be some mythical creatures that can balance on their head and knit a sweater at the same time. How do you think they got there? If you want to really expand your practice, and eventually learn more intricate and difficult postures, you must practice. At this time, I am committing to practicing yoga 6 days a week, with 3 of those days involving a full hour.
  • Get your friends involved: Friends that play together stay together? Or something like that…I found that the more I surround myself with individuals who want to stay fit, the easier it is to actually stick with it. I have nothing against eating pizza and drinking a beer (or five), and I certainly am not going to preach about organic this and all-natural that, but I do believe in a balance. If you want to eat that pizza pie, you better be willing to work off those calories the next day or buhbye. I have found that those individuals who refuse to try and have a balanced life, also tend to make attempts to sabotage your healthy habits. It is absolutely unbelievable how often some people comment about what I am eating in a negative way. I am often accused of eating like a “rabbit” because I choose a salad with grilled chicken over a large pizza and fries. Food is fuel people, and if I wanted to function like a McDonald’s, I would eat there regularly.  The next time someone negatively comments on your healthy habits, take a good look at their habits. I guarantee they are unhappy with their life.
  • Get Medical Clearance: This is a big one. I have suffered from numerous injuries and I am currently dealing with some sacroiliac joint dysfunction. Have I stopped doing yoga? No. Do I have an appointment with a doctor to get clearance to continue my practice? Absolutely. Although yoga provides numerous health benefits, it is still hard on the body. If we are being mindful, we must also be aware of any discomfort we have during our practice, and be sure to modify the postures to our own ability. Play it safe kiddies.

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  • Attend a Yoga Class: When I am at home, I am the yoga master. The reality? I have absolutely no idea if my form is correct (and half the time, no idea what the hell I am doing). The only way to know for sure is to have a qualified instructor assist you when developing your yoga foundation. Many studios offer introduction courses that you can register for. Do you need to attend yoga classes forever? No. Yoga classes can be insanely expensive, but you should at least build your initial foundation with the help of a professional. Check out videos on youtube and this awesome website for some free yoga!

I will be starting a New Yoga Challenge in May and I hope you will join me.

Namaste.

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Too Legit to Quit: Fit and Friendly Alcohol Choices

I wanted to take a break from discussing my 30 Day Yoga Challenge (which is going fantastic) and focus on something very important to me, something I hold extremely dear and near to my heart, the apple of my eye, the cherry on my sundae (insert drumroll here)…my very good friend named alcohol.

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If you have ever tried to lose weight, I am sure you have been confused by all of the articles out there that state either: alcohol is terrible for weight loss or alcohol may help weight loss (umm yeah, I am perplexed).

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Either way, I don’t care. These days, I detest dieting, loath calorie restriction, and I refuse to label foods as “good” or “bad.” As long as you consume alcoholic beverages in moderation (and responsibly), I see no reason to eliminate something you enjoy from your lifestyle. If you are feeling scholarly this morning, click on that picture above to learn a little bit more about how alcohol travels through your body.

That being said, I also believe in trying to find smarter choices. Why work hard all week exercising and eating healthy, just to blow it all by taking in extra calories at the bar?

Top 3 Fit-Friendly Alcohol Choices

  • Vodka/Rum/Tequila: I put these champions together because they hold the same caloric value. Per 1.5 ounces (which is about one shot for my lushes out there), these delicious choices total about 100 calories! Try choosing low calorie mixers to pair these with. For my vodka lovers (here’s to you Belvedere), crystal light is your best friend. It will add practically zero calories to your beverage and it tastes AMAZING. For my rum friends, a rum and coke is the way to go. Although I am not a huge believer in soda and I try to avoid it, a diet coke may be useful in moderation. Tequila? Well good news here, you don’t need a mixer. Grab a lime, some salt, a few friends, and I guarantee you will have a good time while keeping your waistline in check.
  • Wine: Sometimes we all want to pretend we are being classy while poisoning our bodies. This is where wine comes in. Red and white wines carry a measly 20 calories per ounce. So, for my mathematicians, a 5-ounce glass would be only 100 calories (Look at that math skill, I am so smart). Sweeter blush wines may run a bit higher, around 32 calories per ounce. There has also been research indicating red wine may benefit heart health and even help keep extra pounds from piling on.
  • Light Beer: It’s summer time, you’re on the beach, and nothing tastes better than popping open a delicious Corona Light. I don’t care how badly you want to lose weight, would you seriously deny yourself of this pleasure? Per 12 ounces, a light beer carries approximately 100 calories, where a regular beer can run anywhere between 150-200 calories.

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Although I do not believe in any type of food restriction, you may want to use caution when choosing a fancy cocktail from a restaurant. In comparison to my fit-friendly choices mentioned above, these drinks can run up to 500 calories each. Keep in mind these calorie totals are estimates, as many restaurants use extra sugar and high calorie mixers.

Pina Colada     500
Chocolate martini       450
Coffee liqueur      350
Long Island Iced Tea  300
Margarita      280
Mojito      215
Cosmopolitan       215

If you remember anything from what you just read, remember that alcohol still provides zero, zilch, nada, nutrition. I will say it one more time, slowly, M-O-D-E-R-A-T-I-O-N. Meaning, if you plan on continuing a healthy lifestyle, binge drinking is something you should probably try to avoid. Personally, I follow the 80% rule. As long as I am eating healthy and exercising 80% of the time, I will allow myself to indulge (I truly cannot resist those little golden balls of heaven… Ferrero Rocher, in fact, I eat chocolate daily). Remember, living a healthy lifestyle does not mean eliminating a few guilty pleasures. If you are planning on always being perfect with your nutrition, I recommend never returning to this blog again (actually, please do return, I enjoy a challenge).

For those of you following the yoga challenge, keep pushing because we are halfway through it! If you skipped a day (or a week), it is okay. Roll out that yoga mat right now and get to it.

Namaste.

Credits:
NIAAA
totaldui
sparkpeople
livestrong

8 Yoga Tips For Beginners

It has been one week since I started the 30 Day Yoga Challenge.

For those of you who are joining me in this challenge, congrats! I have to say I was pretty surprised when friends, family, and acquaintances showed interest in doing this with me, committing to an entire month of yoga practice, but it has been a pleasant surprise, filled with positivity, inspiration, and motivation.

Highlight of the week: Having a 30 minute tree pose staring contest with my boyfriend, Rand, following a few glasses of wine. Yeah, that happened. 

yoga cat tree pose

That being said, I learned a thing or two during this first week. Let’s start with a disclaimer: I am very beginner when it comes to yoga. I can’t stand on my head or bend like a pretzel yet, but I am truly committed to learning and working from the ground up.

Here are my top 8 yoga tips for beginners.

Yoga Mat: I have no idea at this point how many yoga mats I have purchased in the past four years. Some people enjoy mats with a little more cushion (got to keep that tushy cushy), while others enjoy mats that feel practically like a hardwood floor (just thinking about those types of mats sincerely hurts my tailbone). Either way, purchase a really good mat that works for you. You can find yoga mats at most stores, usually for an affordable price (anywhere between $15-50). For my eco-friendly friends, they even sell environmental friendly mats, but those tend to be a tad bit more expensive. Remember, this is the mat your body will be utilizing every day during your yoga practice, so make sure you purchase what works for you.

Yoga Block: My sister purchased me a yoga block about 4 years ago for Christmas, and I just used it for the first time this week. Despite the fact that the yoga block could have been extremely useful the past four years, something blocked my prefrontal cortex from making rational decisions (I blame graduate school). Not only does it help provide stability for difficult postures, but it also prevents you from over-stretching, helping to avoid unnecessary injuries. Again, yoga blocks are pretty cheap ($10-20) and can be found at most stores.

Trial and Error: Finding the right yoga class or yoga video is like finding the right gynecologist/proctologist (oh yeah, I went there). Some instructors can be ostentatious and downright creepy. Try out a few different classes to see what it is you like/dislike. The yoga instructor is the one guiding you through each posture, so you want to make sure you feel both comfortable and connected to the practice.

Clothing: My favorite topic. Whatever you choose to wear during yoga, make sure it is practical. Baggy pants and tops usually get in the way when you are trying to transition from one posture to the next (Seriously, try doing yoga in sweatpants and let me know how quickly they slide off your booty). I am obsessed with yoga pants. Whether or not you actually practice yoga, I am pretty confident almost all females are equally obsessed with this fashion trend. Not only are they extremely comfortable, but they are super cute and sexy. Check out Victoria’s Secret yoga line. It is a little pricey, but totally worth it. Take away message: I am giving you an excuse to go shopping.

Learn the Language: To prevent sounding pedantic, hear me out for a moment. I previously did not believe it was important to learn the language. I’m not a yoga instructor and I do not want to sound like a pretentious hippie (Quite the oxymoron and yes, I am a bit judgy this morning). Learning the language will help you deepen your practice and make it a hell of a lot easier to follow each sequence. When learning the postures, we have to watch the instructor closely, but once learned, it is much easier to just listen and focus on the movement. For those who want to learn more, check out your bookstore and read a little. I just purchased The Complete Yoga Book, by James Hewitt. Unfortunately, Yoga for Dummies was not in-stock.

Invite your friends: As Chalene Johnson once said, “If your friends don’t like to workout, get new friends!” Okay, so that is a bit dramatic, but if your friends exercise with you, it makes hitting that yoga mat after a long day much easier. Rand, who would rather lift heavy weights than even look at a yoga mat, decided to join me a few times this week, supporting me in this challenge. If you haven’t tried yoga with your partner, do it. Not only can they help correct your form, but you will have a guaranteed laugh when you land on your ass. Half moon pose anyone?

half moon pose

Be Mindful: Previously when I practiced yoga, I had this neurotic urge to always be perfect with each posture. Well, if I were “perfect,” I would most likely be an instructor, so I needed a little reality check. Yoga is not about perfection, nor is it about pushing your body past your limit. If you are constantly comparing your posture to others in a judgmental way, then you are not being fully present with your mind and body. Focus less on being advanced, and focus more on your journey of getting there. I am fully aware I sound like a walking cliché right now, but it is true. I realized that by focusing on my breath and the movement, my postures improved and the more relaxed I felt following the sequence.

Laugh a little: Every person will fall, stumble, and roll off of their mat at some point. Yoga is hard. It requires concentration, balance, and flexibility. I know some yoga classes require silence, and you certainly don’t want to be a distraction in class, but every once and awhile, just laugh at yourself. Yoga does not need to be so serious all of the time. Remember, you won’t be perfect, you will fall, and mistakes happen. Get over it.

If you have any advice for yoga beginners that I did not include, please feel free to share.

Only 22 more days to go! Keep pushing. Remember: If you skip a day, try not to beat yourself up about it! Life Happens.

Namaste.

Herbal Remedies

I have always been extremely clumsy, accident prone, with a Ph.D. in the art of bad luck.

Now, before I sound like a complete hypochondriac, let’s briefly review a snippet of my track record, shall we?

In high school, I ended up in the hospital after my “friend” decided he would pick me up in the mall. The result? A dislocated patella. (Crazy girl side note: My kneecap ended up on the side of my leg, and despite the excruciating pain, I refused to let the nurse cut my favorite pair of jeans. I mean, how hard is it to find the perfect pair of jeans? Don’t judge me. It took me a year to heal and my knee was never the same).

In college, I ended up at the health center after an insane rash developed all over my body, only to be told by the doctor (and I use that term loosely) that I had scabies (which turned out to be untrue…how gross). I went to my primary care doctor, who was so shocked by the misdiagnosis that he literally knee-slap laughed in my face, all while bracing himself on the counter. I, in fact, was having my first allergic reaction in my life at age 18. Since that time, allergy medication has been my savior (I’m looking at you Claritin D).

Shortly after, I was attacked by my refrigerator (true story) in my dorm room. I will spare you the details, but that refrigerator was out to get me. After weeks of MRI’s and X-rays, I was eventually told my ACL pretty much no longer existed and I needed surgery. Lucky for me, this was the same leg I messed up previously, so it was proficient at being completely useless.

In short, I have a lot of hands-on experience being a patient. Let’s get to my point, shall we?

How many times have you gone to the doctor, handed over approximately 20-60 dollars for your co-pay (imagine how many cups of coffee you could purchase with that still in your pocket…), only to be told one of the following statements.

Here, take this Z-Pack.

Here, try this (enter any steroid, acne, skin cream here) and see what happens.

Oh, it is probably just stress.

Or my personal favorite…

If you still have pain in a year, come back and see me.

Don’t get me wrong, I know going to the doctor is a necessary part of life. I also know medication and medical research has helped improve the lives of many, heal those that need healing, and save the lives of loved ones. I don’t despise the medical profession, and I am not a liberal hippie cursing the corporate pharmaceutical companies for feeding the capitalist agenda (okay, so they are kind of  like legal drug dealers). In fact, my boyfriend’s mother is a doctor, who is extremely helpful, intelligent, kind, and always looking for an answer to any health woe that comes her way, whether through a natural cure or with the use of an appropriate medication.

But…a big but…

Some physician’s just straight up suck.

We have all been in a situation where a doctor prescribes you a medication because they have no idea what is wrong with you and pretends to care about your overall well-being, all while never making eye contact with you or taking the time to actually understand your symptoms.

In a way, I understand. We live in a culture where if you take a pill, your problem is fixed. Oh you’re depressed? Take a pill. Oh, you have acne? Here, try this prescription face wash. Oh, you need to shed some pounds? Diet pills are the answer! Even schools and some employers require a doctor’s note, forcing you to trek over to your primary care doctor.

In my quest to heal some of my health problems, I realized that not everything requires a pill or a visit to my doctor. For example, recently I learned that many health issues can even be correlated to allergies, forcing you to change your environment and even your diet (hence why I will be going gluten free, future posts shall follow).

Because I know many people in my life suffer from similar health problems, I thought I would share my top three herbal remedies that I use on a regular, and almost daily, basis. Please keep in mind that I am obviously not a doctor and before trying any of these remedies, do your own research. Some people have this misconception that because something is “herbal” “organic” “natural” that it is safe. NOT TRUE. Anything you put in or on your body could potentially have a side effect.

Turmeric

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Scientific name: Curcuma longa, Curcuma domestica

Turmeric is a miraculous spice that is grown in India and some tropical regions of Asia. The active ingredient in Turmeric is called curcumin. Not only is the color and taste of Turmeric used in food coloring and flavoring, but turmeric is also an antioxidant, and continues to undergo research for anti-cancer effects! How cool is that?

Why use it?

Well, besides the amazing superman cancer fighting powers, turmeric is a natural anti-inflammatory and can help relieve inflammation caused by arthritis and muscle sprains/aches. Turmeric also protects against liver diseases, reduces cholesterol, and my personal favorite, is a remedy for numerous digestive problems including irritable bowel syndrome, colitis,  and Crohn’s disease.

Ginger Root

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Scientific name: Zingiber officinale

Mmm Ginger…If you are a sushi lover, you have encountered this delicious herb. Originally cultivated in South Asia, the underground stem, also known as the rhizome, is used for both its edible and medicinal properties.  Ginger has similar uses as my previous friend Turmeric. It is primarily used to treat various types of stomach problems, but there is also evidence it provides pain relief for arthritis and muscle soreness, upper respiratory tract infections, and back/chest pain.

Just like Turmeric, ginger is an anti-inflamatory. Just pop a little ginger in your mouth when you’re feeling nauseous, and in about a half hour you will be up and running. Plus, I am giving you an excuse to go out and eat more sushi. Now I want sushi…

Tea Tree Oil

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Scientific/medical name(s): Melaleuca alternifolia

The most mysterious of the three, and probably the stinkiest, not many people have heard about the wonders of tea tree oil. It is an exctract from a plant native to Australia. Traditionally, tea tree oil was used as a topical antiseptic and antifungal treatment.

Tea tree oil is an effective treatment for acne, toenail fungus, eczema, and even gum disease (all of those super attractive things).

One of the coolest treatments I have heard of is the use of tea tree oil to combat MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), which is resistant to most, if not all, antibiotic treatment. Research continues in this area.

Word of caution: Although all of the three natural remedies listed can have side effects, tea tree oil can cause severe allergic reactions and should never be ingested. Also, keep out of reach of animals. Not only is it toxic for some animals, but the smell can make them cuckoobananas. My one bengal cat, Nala, goes absolutely insane when she smells it. One whiff of that stuff and she starts drooling, sprinting, and bunny kicking anything she finds.

Sources:
Wedmd.com
Cancer.org
My own miraculous memory storage of wonders