July 17, 2014
It’s been a while since I wrote about Pilates, but as it was my first venture into mind-body fitness and I promised myself I’d become an instructor in it, I thought I’d take the time to write about the basic principles that act as the foundation for Joseph Pilates’ method of “Contrology” which he based on a lifetime of study of movement and fitness. There have been a lot of studies coming out on the benefits of doing Pilates in the past year, ranging from improving sleep to quality of life. Before I launch into the explanations of the six principles (sometimes they vary a little depending on the school teaching them, but these are the main foundational ideas he wrote about), I want to talk about the powerhouse.
In Pilates, the powerhouse is considered your core. Not just your rectus abdominus, the superficial muscle that makes six- or eight-pack abs look good but actually can contribute to back pain when overworked, but the integrated system of muscles that supports your lower back and pelvic girdle. There are a lot of them because the pelvis is where the two halves of your body combine. Besides the rectus, which is focused upon least (in my opinion), the powerhouse includes:
- The transverse abdominals
- The internal and external obliques
- The erector spinae and other back muscles
- The hip flexors
- The gluteals
Most of the focus is on the transverse abdominus, obliques, hip flexors, back muscles, and other supporting trunk muscles. Pilates believed–and science has since proved–that all movement originates in the core. When the mind-body link is established through practicing the Pilates principles which underline the method of Contrology, you’ll find that you have an enormous sense of understanding of what’s happening within your body as well as being able to control what your body is doing. It no longer acts of its own accord, but instead you become more mindfully aware of how you move.
The principles are:
Concentration: perhaps the most important principle (again, in my opinion), it is absolutely necessary to stay focused on what you are doing throughout your practice, whether it be a 15-minute or hour-long workout. Concentration establishes the mind-body link, allowing for new neurological pathways to be established over time with repeating the exercises. It takes at least six seconds to begin establishing these new neurological pathways, and at least 1000 times repeated with an average of 10,000 times, equating roughly to 18 hours of practice for each exercise.
Centering: this principle states that all movement starts in the powerhouse, with the main working muscles being those of the deeper abdominals, back muscles, and glutes. From the powerhouse, each movement flows outward into the rest of the body, enhanced by correct form and anatomical alignment.
Precision: in addition to doing an exercise with full concentration and the activation of the powerhouse, Pilates asks the student to approach each exercise with goal. “Honor every movement,” said Pilates. Every exercise has a purpose, a way it will help build strength and the connection between mind and body. Therefore, each exercise should be done with the aim of achieving perfected repetitions, which is part of the reason most of them are performed in a low number of repetitions. It is vital that, as you practice your exercises, you continually scan your body and breath (coming up) to see if you are doing all six principles.
Breathing: not only do you need to perform exercises as well as possible, you must also breathe with them. The breath is integral to every exercise because it helps create a rhythm and flow with which to follow. It also makes the exercises easier, though it can take getting used to. Sri K. Pattabi Jois used to say to his students, “Incorrect breathing, pain coming.” So many people hold their breath when they work out, causing an increased thoracic pressure (and elevated blood pressure), veins popping out of their bodies, redness in the skin, faintness that might lead to nausea or fainting, etc. As a general rule, a student inhales through the nose on the preparation and exhales through the mouth to execute the movement.
Control: in order to prevent any injury from happening to the body, all exercises need to be done mindfully. A student needs to be in full control of every movement they execute, both in body and mind. (Again, coming back to the link between body-mind is very important in establishing those neurological pathways.) This idea is where Pilates got his “Contrology” term, or “The art of control.” When done without sudden, thoughtless, or haphazard movements (and distracted thoughts), Pilates is one of the safest exercise regimens out there.
Fluidity of movement: also called “flow,” this principle states that each exercise should have a smooth, graceful quality to it; additionally, transitions between each exercise should also flow together. With practice and time, any jerkiness, static rests, or fragmented movements will melt away into an effortless dance-like practice.
As with any exercise, particularly if you are new to it, it’s going to take some time to learn all of this. I highly recommend finding a qualified instructor under whom to study. As I tell my new students, who often look like deer in the headlights when they have to think about all of these things at once (and look a little worn out after class from having used their brains in new, unexpected ways), take things one step at a time. Master one principle at a time–make it the focus of a practice and as you begin to learn the movements, add more and more principles until you can concentrate (no pun intended!) on them all while flowing (hehe!) through all the exercises.
July 10, 2014
I stretched my brain to think of something to talk about this week besides the products of the month from doTERRA (below). Sometimes, it’s hard to come up with something each week. Then, I stumbled upon this challenge and thought I’d share it for you.
Simple, straightforward. Right? So often, we get caught up in the cyclical nature negative thinking and negative speaking can lead to. Stopping to think about what we’d like to say–how they can affect not only those around is but also ourselves–can lead to the start of cognitive restructuring and positive mood shifts.
Give it a try! See if you notice a difference :)
Here are this month’s doTERRA products of the month, plus a great opportunity for those seeking to start up selling essential oils to those in their own communities:
SAVE 10% on doTERRA Essential Skin Care Clear Skin Foaming Face Wash! With amazing essential oils like rosewood to manage sebum levels, white willow bark for cell renewal, and black cumin seed with its antioxidants to help protect skin, this gentle cleanser is designed to rid your skin of impurities without stripping it of natural moisture for beautiful, clear skin. For more information on doTERRA’s skin care line, check out this PDF: EssentialSkinCare Foaming Face Wash.
This month’s oil of the month is Serenity Essential Oil Blend. I personally used this blend in final relaxation at the end of my yoga class last night, and the whole class really enjoyed its fragrance and calming benefits. Lavender, sweet marjoram, Roman chamomile, ylang ylang, sandalwood and vanilla bean all combine to create a wonderful blend that can bring about a sense of peace and a good night’s rest. (A friend told me that if she doesn’t put it on her feet before she goes to bed, she has a very hard time falling asleep.)
As an added bonus, for those doTERRA wellness advocates who sell at least 125 product volume (PV) before the 15th of the month, you get a free bottle of Serenity! This has instantly become my favorite essential oil that I have tried thus far. I hope you take the opportunity to do so as well.
One additional note: For those interested in becoming doTERRA wellness advocates, if you enroll between July 1-31 with an order of 100 PV, you will receive another 50 product credits free. (Each item ordered is designated a product volume, PV, usually–with some exceptions–equaling the wholesale value of the item.)
Please note, I am a doTERRA wellness advocate (also known as an Independent Product Consultant, or IPC). I will benefit from any sales made through my website, but promise that I will do my best to bring accurate essential oils and product information to you. Please feel free to leave me any questions you may have and I will do my best to answer them in a timely fashion, and please check out my Facebook page, Joyous Living and Wellness, where I post not only about health and fitness but also the benefits of essential oils.
June 19, 2014
Two of my goals this year were to learn how to make my own skincare products and become more debt-free. I’ve also had a growing interest in essential oils in the past two years, since being formally introduced to them through my yoga teacher training (one goal accomplished, by the way, back in January). Well, this week, after much waiting (on what direction the husband’s career was going to take) and praying, I’ve finally committed to becoming a doTERRA wellness advocate! And I’m terribly excited!
I’ve tried several brands of essential oils in the past, but none have stood up to the quality that I’ve found with doTERRA. Their oils are more fragrant, richer, and work better than any other product that I’ve used in the past. Here are some of my experiences with their oils:
- Melaleuca (tea tree) oil is a staple in my kit. I use it in almost everything, from adding it to sugar scrubs to cloth wipes (I cloth diaper) for my daughter. Since skin issues run in my family, melaleuca helps soothe and heal eczema and psoriasis flare-ups. It also has kept my daughter rash free from birth!
- Lavender is another one of my must-haves. Not only is it extremely calming and helps with insomnia, from which I suffer from time to time, it also aids in digestion and intestinal relief. When my daughter was a few months old, she developed bad gas. I placed a drop of lavender in a vegetable carrier oil and rubbed it clockwise on her belly, and it helped relieve her pain and pass the gas.
- Peppermint is both invigorating and relaxing. Toward the end of my pregnancy, I developed some swelling in my ankles. Another student of mine had very bad edema throughout her own pregnancy. We both experienced water loss–in her words, she no longer felt like she was going to “burst out of her skin.” (I gave her the rest of my bottle to keep.)
- Ginger is well-known for it’s effect on nausea. As many of you who follow this blog may know, I had extreme nausea throughout my entire pregnancy. Ginger, combined with peppermint beadlettes (which doTERRA still sells), greatly reduced my nausea so that I could complete a yoga training.
- Lemon is not only one of my favorite fragrances, it also tastes fabulous in water and has powerful detoxifying properties. I love putting a drop or two into a glass–and that’s all you need!
- Wild orange has an uplifting fragrance that, when I wear it on my wrists, just makes me a little bit happier and gives me a slight boost in energy. Yet, it does not promote anxiety, but acts as a soothing scent while not making you sleepy.
- Oregano was once used in a yoga class I took during a training to help support the immune system. We were focusing on moving lymph. I don’t know precisely how it worked, but I felt terrific after class.
- DeepBlue is an oil blend that I personally have not tried but several of my friends and family have. My favorite story is that of my mother, who has a couple herniated discs in her back. When DeepBlue was applied to her back at the site of pain, she had instant relief for quite some time. (Note, no oil takes away pain permanently.)
There are many oils out there that I haven’t yet tried. Recent studies suggest that cancer patients may be helped by such oils as frankincense and sandalwood. The woman who introduced me to doTERRA’s products stated that she hadn’t had a MRSA outbreak since she’d started a regular essential oil regimen. One of my instructors told me that she hasn’t been sick since she’s begun using them regularly.
Regardless of whether or not you try doTERRA, there are a few things you want to look for when sourcing essential oils. First, look for the use of science in the quality testing done by the company–doTERRA uses mass spectrometry and gas chromatography to verify the purity of their products. Look also to see whether a company gets their products independently tested for purity. DoTERRA uses one such source that certifies the oils’ purity. Third, make certain that you are using a therapeutic-grade oil that is not cut with any other fillers. Part of the reason why many store-bought oils are so inexpensive is because the oils in them are cut with fillers.
Most importantly, if you have any questions at all, talk with a consultant. Also talk with a doctor knowledgeable in alternative holistic practices, especially if you have conditions. By and large, good, certified pure, therapeutic-grade oils are not toxic to use, but it is important to know which ones will help and which ones may hinder. The FDA does not regulate the development, sales, and use of essential oils as they are considered supplements.
On one final note, I will be posting doTERRA’s specials each month with information on them. There is no obligation to purchase. It is as much informational as it is a plug for my fledgling business. Please always feel free to contact me with questions. I will do my best to answer them.
This month’s oils:
- Balance (blend): “Everyone experiences moments of disconnectedness or anxiety. The warm, woody aroma of Balance, doTERRA’s grounding blend, creates a sense of calm and well-being. We perfectly blend spruce, rosewood, frankincense, and blue tansy with fractionated coconut oil to offer an enticing fragrance which promotes tranquility and a sense of balance. For aromatic and topical use.” (Taken from doTERRA website.)
- TerraShield (blend): “TerraShield is an all-natural formula of citronella, cedarwood, and a blend of 11 other therapeutic-grade essential oils blended in a base of fractionated coconut oil. A primary function of essential oils in plants is protecting against insects and other predators. Unlike other products that contain synthetic and toxic chemicals, TerraShield is a natural approach to managing exposure to biting insects. TerraShield’s fresh, light citrus smell is wonderfully invigorating and can be used safely by everyone in the family. One application provides coverage that lasts up to 6 hours.” (Taken from doTERRA website.)
Those who may have sensitive skin may wish to use a vegetable carrier oil (fractionated coconut oil, olive oil, etc.) to dilute pure essential oils. While the two above are already blended with a carrier base, the wearer can choose to dilute them further if necessary. Consult physicians if the sensitivity becomes worse or before using any oils on young children.
Want to know more? Watch this “Ask Dr. Hill” about TerraShield:
June 12, 2014
If you’re like me, you probably just heard cash registers ringing up huge bills in your ears. Yes, fitness equipment is not cheap. But hear me out. There are a few good reasons to buy your own stuff.
First off, you may or may not be able to get to the gym all the time. A lot of people–stay-at-home moms like myself, for instance–don’t have the time or finances to pay for club memberships, and it can be quite depressing to look at yourself in the mirror every day wondering how you’re going to fight the battle of the bulge when your money is going elsewhere and you’re gym doesn’t stay open 24 hours a day. And if you haven’t noticed yet, there are a lot of online fitness channels starting to take notice, which have monthly fees that are easier to swallow than the daily price of a studio class. Yet, many of these classes recommend, or even require, some (usually small) equipment.
Second, why not invest in the workouts you love most? Get a TRX or a couple kettlebells if you plan on making them a regular part of your weekly regimen. Buy good quality equipment and take care of it so that it lasts a long time. Some brands of, say for example, yoga mats are said to last a lifetime if they’re properly maintained (i.e. cleaned and stored).
Third, think about germs. I personally am not a germophobe but I know many people are. When you utilize the equipment that is out for general use, it may or may not be cleaned. I’m particularly thinking of mats here. Facilities are required to clean their machines but a good many times cleaning aerobics equipments falls upon the student, who may just be in a fired up hurry that day. Plus, when they get used a lot, even if cleaned, mats can really begin to smell.
Last, freedom of choice is valuable. Let’s face it: life happens and it may derail any getting to the gym one day or week, so having something at home as a supplemental backup plan can really save us from a sudden case of gym woes. As most of us believe, I think, something is better than nothing.
What about the money? I said it up top–it is expensive to invest in equipment. However, the price of one video game or a salon pedicure can buy a nice mat. A month of not eating out may get you that TRX.
It all comes down to priorities. Our health should be one of our most important priorities, as a healthy body allows for the best quality of life we can have. Buying fitness equipment does not mean you have to eternally sacrifice all the fun you’ve been having. It’s about making a great lifestyle choice so you can go on having fun, and look and, most importantly, feel good too!
Quick, Easy DIY Pilates/Yoga Mat Wash
Dilute 1/4 cup white vinegar with 1 cup of distilled water. Pour into a spray bottle and add 5-10 drops each of tea tree and lavender essential oils. Carry with you in your purse or mat bag. Use at the end of each class.
June 5, 2014
I am very fortunate to have a student who has a good friend whose a dietician. I recently wanted to know what the difference between a fast and a cleanse was, according to a dietician’s vocabulary. (Note, religious fasting takes a different form and comes with a different mindset. I am not discussing that here.) More to the point, I was interested in what she had to say about the Dr. Oz juice cleanse.
My interest in juicing stems back to my childhood, when my uncle worked for the Juice Man, and, more recently, it was reignited after watching the documentary Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead. The subject of the documentary, Joe Cross, went through a 60-day doctor-supervised juice diet. (For more on the subject, Dr. Oz has information here.) It was amazing to watch Joe not only change the direction his health–and therefore life–was heading, but also reaching out to others who needed the same help.
The main reason I revisited this idea just this past weekend was simple. I wanted to cleanse my body. I had no intention of dieting, fasting, or in any way hitting the gym hard while cutting calories. I am a mom, and am still breastfeeding. Cutting calories is a bad idea.
So, let me just repeat: my idea of a juice cleanse is not a fast or a diet, and it is done over a short period of time (3 days).
I’ll also stop now and say the all-important phrase: I am not a doctor or a registered dietician. Before attempting any kind of diet, fast, cleanse, or exercise regimen, always consult your physician, dietician, and/or medical team, particularly if you suffer from any ailments.
Finally, before I launch into what I did, I’ll expound upon what the dietician conveyed to me. She describes fasting as a period of time in which one doesn’t eat anything, and states that even for short durations it is detrimental to the metabolic system, which need food in order to burn calories. Cleansing, she says, is done after you’ve consumed a lot of processed foods and feel heavy. It can also be a great way to jump start a healthy lifestyle change like cleaner eating. She also said that if one already eats clean, then cleansing isn’t necessary.
But because I’d had a hard time keeping anything healthy down during my pregnancy, and because I have students who ask me questions regarding diet as a part of healthy living, I thought I’d try a cleanse. As the dietician did, I modified the plan and ate along with the juices.
Here’s the basic breakdown of what I did:
- I followed the three main juices from Dr. Oz’s detox plan–red in the morning, green at lunch, blue in the evening; and had an extra one ready in case I needed it–you could substitute this for tea, of which sadly I’d run out.
- Because I did not have a juicer, I chose store-bought juices that had no additives or fillers, that were nothing but fruits and veggies. Due to the fact that many of these are sweetened with fruit, I limited my fruit intake.
- I eliminated meat, dairy, and processed products from my consumption for the three days.
- I ate as many vegetables as I wanted. I also ate as many heart-healthy fats as I wanted (usually 2-4 servings per day, mostly from nut butter).
- I ate a huge salad at dinner to help keep me full overnight, and drizzled these with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
- My sweet treat was dates and, once, a drizzle of honey.
- I drank a lot of water.
- I kept my exercising simple: walking and yoga.
Besides a minor headache on the first day, I’m happy to say that I really didn’t suffer any negative side effects. (Headaches are common occurrences when cleansing because the brain also goes through a chemical change.) Whenever I was hungry, I reached for celery and a nut butter of choice (this time, sunbutter, which was one of two “processed” thing I ate as I didn’t have it raw, if one wants to call ground up sunflower seeds processed), almonds and a few dates. For breakfast, I enjoyed steel cut oats and pumpkin with a splash of coconut almond milk (the other “processed” food–almonds, water, and coconut cream were the only ingredients).
Surprisingly, I didn’t find it very difficult (as day three is often rumored to be), although I was definitely ready to dig into the shrimp curry I’d made the day before I began by the time I’d ended. I think that this is perhaps because I didn’t cut food out completely, but choose to eat a vegan, mostly raw, whole foods diet. Overall, I’d have to say the experience was a positive one.
To reiterate on the final note, if you choose to do any kind of cleanse, make sure you consult the appropriate experts. Plan ahead, putting extra money aside for the necessary foods. Tell the others in your family what you are planning to do. Most of all, be smart about it. If something doesn’t feel right, modify so that you don’t get ill or have a more serious incident occur.
ADDENDUM 6/8/2014: There is one note I should have added–had I remembered, I would have prepared some beans and rice for meals too. Besides this, I am happy to note that my body feels as though it’s running more efficiently, especially when it comes to waste removal. Also, my cravings for sweet things haven’t been as hard to handle. So, all in all, a good experience!
May 29, 2014
If you are one of those people who take yoga regularly, or even if you’re just starting out, you may have heard of something called an intention. Many instructors will suggest that a student sent one for that day’s practice. Sometimes, it might merely be to focus on the breath to keep your concentration or to feel how you move differently in and out of postures. It might be facing the thing that crops up out of nowhere without running from it or burying it again–it’s okay to be scared.
I’m here to say that intentions are not confined to yoga. They can be made in any discipline, be it physical fitness or a day job. All it takes is a little know-how and some positive thinking to get you going.
But what are they, you may ask? The simplest way I can think of to describe an intention is that it’s a focal point, a goal. It is not a concrete, unyielding resolution but rather something that flows with the changes life brings. As a writer, one of my intentions is to write daily. (How I do this will come in a minute.)
Why make one? Simply to give yourself a focus. So often, life can get confusing and blurry with how fast it goes. By choosing to focus on a single thing, you minimize or eliminate distractions.
How you go about this can take shape in a myriad of ways. In my case, my first step is to show up. Sit down at the computer or with a notebook. Write, even if it’s one sentence–write. Repeat the following day.
The biggest thing to keep in mind, however, is that an intention should be a thing expressed in a positive way with the understanding that life happens. Don’t get yourself down if it takes you for a wild ride one day. The next day, refocus on your intention and keep going right where you left off.
Intentions should also have a time frame. It might change, depending on how long that wild ride lasts, but they should be concrete enough to keep you going. Time frames help prevent apathy or laziness.
I find that intentions allow for more flexibility than resolutions, which is why I always encourage people around New Year’s to focus on an intention rather than a resolution. Intentions say, “This is what I want to achieve/experience” without being tightly bound to “the one right way” to get there. It allows for change, understands that life happens, and yet it gives you the focus you need to keep driving toward your ultimate goals and dreams.