February 6, 2014
A pregnant woman’s body undergoes a lot of changes. The demands placed upon it by the relaxin and progesterone, the hormones responsible for opening up the body in preparation for birth and hence the reason why so many women see increased flexibility, can place joints in danger of destabilization and muscles as risk of imbalance. An extreme example of such things happening is a woman who has never been particularly flexible in the past going into a yoga class and discovering that she can bend and twist herself into any shape her heart desires, only to find postpartum that she needs physical therapy because the ligament structures around her joints have overstretched. (Ligaments do not shorten back up like muscles do.)
With that said, there are ways of maintaining strength around the joint capsule to balance the increased range of motion that accompanies pregnancy hormones. Here are a few that I used while pregnant. Try to do at least 10 per day. The more, the merrier!
Abdominal Scoops: Sit in a chair or on a stability ball with feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart. Slowly hollow out the belly on an exhale as though you were trying to scoop ice cream out of the cavity, or trying to pull on pants that are extremely tight. Release on the inhale. NOTE: This is not like a crunch, which can exacerbate the stretching and/or separation (in extreme cases) of the linea alba (the tendon that runs down the middle of the rectus abdominus) potentially leading to a hernia; nor will it harm the baby if done gently and with control. The idea is to lift the pelvic floor, zipper the abs and lower ribs closed, and feel supported throughout the lower back and pelvis, areas into which we crunch when we are carrying added weight. (With pregnancy, the pelvis will shift, increasing the pressure.) Also, ensure that you are sitting as tall as possible, with shoulders lined up directly over the hips.
Planks: From an all-fours position, place elbows directly beneath the shoulder girdles and step one foot at a time out into plank. If in need of a modification, once feet are in place, drop the knees to the floor to prevent sinking into the lower back. Push into the heels (if on the feet), lift through the abs (again, think “scoop”) while lengthening the tailbone toward the back wall, and open the collarbones by rolling the shoulder blades back and down the spine, thereby giving space for the neck. Keep the gaze slightly forward rather than down. Hold for 30 seconds per plank, doing as many as is comfortable (up to 10). Rest in Child’s Pose. NOTE: If you feel pressure in the lower back come out of the exercise and rest before trying again. The focus should be on supporting the back and pelvis rather than holding for expended periods of time. If you need someone to help you get into the correct position, ask a trusted friend or gym trainer to help with corrections. The goal is to look like a table upon which you could serve your favorite meal without sagging or peaking at the hips and low back.
Open-legged squats, also known as moonflowers: Stepping wide and pointing the toes toward the corners of the room (about 45 degrees), reach the arms up into a high-V, fingers spread. Take an inhale. On an exhale, sit into a squat, making sure you can see your big toes, coming no lower than a 90 degree angle with the knee. Inhale return to standing. Do as many as you like. NOTE: think of yourself as an elevator, sliding up and down a building. Try to maintain a nice neutral spine while doing so, without the bottom sticking out or the chest collapsing forward. Also try to keep the knees from caving inward past the big toes. This will put huge stress loads on the medial ligaments supporting the joint and can eventually lead to repetitive use injuries. Contract the gluts slightly and feel the thighs wrap around the outside of the leg in order to prevent this.
Close-legged squats, also known as flowing chair: With feet slightly wider than hip-width for balance support, exhaling and reach the hands out in front of you (or keep them at the heart, pressed together) and sit back into the heels as though you were going to sit into a chair. Perhaps you start by using a chair until you feel capable of doing it without it. Inhale back to standing. Do as many as you like. This exercise is great for the pelvic floor. See if you can feel a gentle lift in the perineum muscles. NOTE: Knee collapsing is also a problem in this exercise; to avoid this, make sure the toes are in line with the ankle and knees in line with the toes. Again try to also keep the chest lifted.
Chest lifts, also known as flowing half forward bend: With feet far enough apart to supply room for your growing belly, bend the knees and place hands on the shins, a pair of yoga blocks or anything that will support you in this low position so you aren’t loading the spine. Inhale deeply. Exhale and use the back muscles only to lift the chest away from the floor, letting arms dangle for added weight or resting hands lightly on the thighs (above the knees) for support while ensuring that they do not assist in the lift. Inhale and return to starting position. This exercise is great for correcting poor posture resulting from pregnancy and breastfeeding, as well as the daily slouching we do while sitting. NOTE: At the initiation of the lift, feel as though the shoulder blades are sliding down the back into your back pants pockets, and from there the muscles of the upper and middle spine will work. Also, there is a great temptation to look forward toward a wall rather than keeping the gaze on the floor. Try to avoid this, as the head is a natural weight that challenges and strengthens your back muscles without putting too much strain on them. Keeping the neck in a neutral position will also avoid straining its muscles and crunching into the delicate cervical vertebrae.
January 30, 2014
I thought I;d leave you with a few motivational pictures to contemplate this week rather than bombarding you with a bunch of stuff. Enjoy them and check out the fabulous idea for saving money to treat yourself once you reach a goal.
Book Review: Natural Prozac: Learning to Release Your Body’s Own Anti-Depressants, By Dr. Joel Robertson With Tom Monte
January 16, 2014
Being caught up in motherhood and rereading the course material for my YogaFit Level 5 class in order to finish up my 200-RYT, I completely forgot to do a post last week! I’m terribly excited about completing this certification. My journey with yoga since 2008 has been a roller coaster. I’ve had amazing instructors who encouraged me to pursue my certification as I was able to afford it; I’ve had an instructor who chided me for teaching a yoga-Pilates mixed class while she was gone (I thought I was doing both her and the gym a favor) and it got a little personal and territorial (not the idea of yoga, by the way); my heart’s been crushed by some hard-nosed business personnel and I’ve scraped by on small paychecks; my students have uplifted and encouraged me in more ways than I can mention.
I also plan on pursuing another line of holistic practice, essential oils through doTERRA. I’m extremely interested in seeing if this is a viable option to expand not only my personal practice in well being but also that of my students, friends and family. I’m also hoping that this becomes a thriving business to help supplement my family’s income in order that we obtain the goal of being debt free.
Now, onto the review. As I said, I’ve been rereading the Level 5 course material, and Natural Prozac: Learning to Release Your Body’s Own Anti-Depressants is one of the books. Dr. Robertson’s theory revolves around the fact that the brain’s chemicals can be altered by both one’s thoughts and the things one does. Neurotransmitters increase and decrease according to our thought and action patterns, and if these patterns are sustained they can created a new brain baseline. If one consumes certain foods, reduces exercise and daily activities, and regularly has negative thoughts, the brain’s baseline chemicals alter in a way that will promote depression. In the first part of the book, Robertson discusses two types (of three, the third being genetic, which he briefly touches upon):
- Satiation-type depression: described chemically as low levels of seratonin, dopamine and norepinephrine; these people seek to avoid situations and activities that create anxiety and stress in their lives.
- Arousal-type depression: described chemically as low levels of seratonin and high levels of dopamine and norepinephrine; these people seek to avoid dealing with their feelings by engaging in situations and activities that create anxiety and stress.
Robertson continues by saying that he believes (as I do) that by altering the foods one eats, the activities one does (including increasing exercise), and practicing cognitive restructuring can increase seratonin levels and balance out dopamine/norepinephrine levels, minimizing or even curing depression, always with doctor and/or therapist supervision of course.
The second half of his book is dedicated to a discussion of the tools he uses (diet, exercise, nature, music, journal writing, entertainment, and spiritual/religious practices), a regimen for each kind of depression, and final words of encouragement.
Overall, I think Robertson’s book is a great self-help guide that can assist those struggling with depression in learning how to identify the root causes of their malady, pinpoint their trigger situations and feelings, and slowly change their behaviors into healthier habits that will positively affect body, mind and even spirit. He gives excellent case studies of patients, with named changed of course, as well as going through the various ways depression can occur and how one avoids dealing with is in minute detail. I also like how he promotes positivity throughout the book, encouraging the reader that 1) there is hope and 2) the power lies with them.
I think that those searching for a way to alleviate the dark oppression depression brings can benefit from Robertson’s tools with doctor/therapist supervision. When one struggles with depression, it is always best to have a team of supporters to help one stay on track. In conclusion, then, I recommend this book because I find it enlightening, uplifting, and easy for the common lay reader to understand (one doesn’t have to be a doctor to translate the terminology, thank heavens).
Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Author Note: I am not a doctor, psychologist, therapist or in any way linked with the medical community. This is merely a suggested reading, not a prescription to help minimize or cure depression. If you are suffering from depression, believe you may be suffering from it, or are having dark, violent or suicidal thoughts, please seek immediate medical attention. The sooner you get help, the better your odds are at coping with and/or alleviating your symptoms through an appropriate treatment plan.
December 26, 2013
Presently at the gyms I work for and, I presume, around the country (even world), things are pretty dead. People are gearing up for the holidays by shopping, wrapping, baking, partying, eating and drinking, and laughing (a lot, I hope). Many of those who fell off the wagon with their New Year’s resolutions are pep-talking themselves in preparation to try again in 2014. Many who succeeded in their resolutions this year are also figuring out what they want to do in the next.
I love the fact that people want to change. I always hope it is a habit that will lead to healthier behaviors rather than determination to try another quick fix. There are no quick fixes for healthier bodies, minds and spirits. (Advertisements lie: diets are fads and only work for some, quick weight loss pictures are often of women who just had babies, and exercise regimens might be too intense for a beginner, potentially leading to burnout, injury, and (worst of all) frustration. They want your money.) There is, however, constant diligence and the resolve to see it through to the end goal.
I like to look at resolutions in a different way. To resolve is a mental process; it is to think of something that you would like to accomplish and also think good to do it. Sometimes when we resolve, we are strong in that resolution. (Other times, the resolution is a fleeting thing.) There’s feeling backing a strong resolution, and willpower, and that leads to intention.
Intention is powerful. Intention promises action, more often sustained action than not. Perhaps you’ve gone to a yoga class where the instructor has left it open for you to establish an intention for that practice. Just like New Year’s resolutions, they can be anything. For example:
- I am cultivating a more patient character
- I am building strength and finding a grounded stance in an unstable world
- I am wealthy in more ways than financial success
- I am blessed because [fill in the blank]
- I am happier than yesterday
- I am on a journey to reach, and maintain, a healthy weight through proper diet and exercise
- Every day is a new day; I am ready to face this one with a smile and open arms
- I am grateful for [fill in the blank]
- I am eating mindfully
Resolutions are always spoken in future tense: I will [blank]. So often, they can be said in any way, most often in a negative light. Intentions are positive, in the present tense, preferably in the active voice: I am…, I [verb]…. They are statements of you doing the thing you want to do right now, this moment. This distinguishes them from resolutions because you are trying to do that thing, whatever it is, at the very moment you think of it; and if you keep that intention in the forefront of your thoughts, or merely come back to it throughout the day, it becomes easier to practice.
So I encourage you to set an intention, or series of intentions, for this coming year.
What if you want to develop healthier diet and exercise habits (or insert any outcome of your choice here)? You make a road map to success! Setting goals will help you achieve the outcome you desire. How do you do that? Think S.M.A.R.T.
- Specific: make your goals distinct, easy to write down and remember, but detailed
- Measurable: so you can see results
- Attainable: your goals should be easy to reach, one stepping stone at a time
- Relevant: your goals should help achieve your outcome
- Time-bound: set them within a given amount of time so that you can see how far you’ve come, reassess if necessary, and establish a new outcome with new goals
Goals help back up your intentions, and intentions support you in keeping your goals. It’s a pleasant cycle instead of the vicious ones we so often fall into when we don’t see the results we want on the scale, on the table, or anywhere else in our lives. As a bonus, intentions help rewire our brains because they make us stop and rethink about the negative things we so often say to and about ourselves. They are positive statements said in the present moment.
Give it a try! Write one ore more down. Your brain might get a really good workout in coming up with positive statements, and your mood will definitely improve!
So what are my intentions and goals for 2014? I’m turning 30 this coming year and feel that it’s time to try a few new things, return to some old habits that are better for me, and continue growing in my relationships, personal and professional endeavors, personal gifts and strengths, and faith. I also want to work on my weaknesses, habits that lead to negative mood and thought, and better utilize and repurpose the things I already have (aka, stewardship).
- I am building healthier habits as an example to my growing child
- I encourage love, joy, peace, and health (and a little dancing) in my family, friends and students
- I am branching out beyond my comfort zone
- I embrace change, that which I create and which I cannot control
- I am deepening my faith
- I am patient
- I am loving
- I am kind
- I am helpful
- I am respectful
- I have self-control
- I am happy
My overall goals:
- To return to a gluten-free diet
- To cut out most processed foods and sugars (limiting my sugar use to honey, coconut palm sugar, and dark 70%+ chocolate in baked goods)–I understand that I cannot get rid of boxed foods all together
- To make food at home 95% of the time, and make good eating-out choices
- To make my own skincare products
- To train for, and perhaps run, at half marathon
- To finish my 200-hour yoga certification; perhaps also to start on my 500-hour RYT
- To establish a sustainable workout regimen that won’t take either the husband or the Wee One
- To become more debt-free
- To establish myself in the book publishing industry
- To reestablish my reading habits, and to read to my daughter daily
- To reestablish my self-study habits in classics and language
- To laugh more
- To worry less
It looks like a lot. It is a lot. Will I fail? You betcha, but I’m not going in with a negative mindset, I promise. I embrace the challenge (an intention) but know I’m only human!
The wonderful thing about intentions is that you cannot break them. You simply try again, stop and remember more often. One step in the direction of a goal, a goal reached, is a step in the right direction.