I’ve seen it so often. Women find out their pregnant, start feeling the effects of it, and quit coming to the gym or their classes. When I see them again postpartum, they feel huge and out of shape.

 

Now, let me preface this by saying that I’m not throwing rocks. I know how debilitating some of pregnancy’s “side effects” are. As one who has experienced hyperemesis through two pregnancies myself, it can be extremely difficult to lift your head to do a daily task (other than hang out with the toilet) let alone get yourself dressed for a workout.

 

I’m also going to say that working out is the¬†only thing that saved me from 1) losing my lunch (and my mind) completely and 2) turning into a couch potato. Even though by eight weeks I could no longer do my usual workouts due to the severity of my nausea, practicing and teaching Yoga and Pilates really, really helped me maintain a healthy weight, keep down the nausea, maintain strength and flexibility and a strong core (essential for delivering babies), and mental clarity.

 

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Pregnancy is a wonderful new adventure, and the perfect time to clean up your routine. This doesn’t necessarily mean starting something new or increasing your goals. It means making small, healthy changes that benefit you and the baby and your household. Gentle, consistent exercise is the main way to keep pregnancy side effects at bay. It helps maintain muscle tone and bone strength, increases adherence to healthy behaviors and therefore a healthy weight, increases circulation and oxygen to the body (and baby), increases positive mindset and mood while decreasing anxiety and depression, and also reduces all the side effects of pregnancy such as swelling, excessive weight gain, gestational diabetes, insomnia and exhaustion.

 

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This sounds wonderful (and is!) but I always provide a word of caution. Whenever pregnant, make sure you consult your physician and/or OB about your routine. Each pregnancy is unique and needs to be well attended by both you and your doctor. Complications and contraindications can occur at any time, in which case you must curtail or change your regimen to meet doctor’s orders. Never go against them (seek a second opinion if you don’t agree with the decision) for your own sake and that of the baby.

 

Most of all, enjoy the journey. Be gentle with yourself. You are venturing down a new path–yes, even those of us who have multiple children, it’s still new because there’s another one comingūüėČ Take care of the important things, learn to let the little things go, and laugh a lot. Children are precious and fun…and I bet you’ll feel better when you do!

I just heard you groan. You’re thinking,¬†But you just told me that dieting does not necessarily help me lose (or gain) weight. Yes, yes I did.¬†Dieting does not help maintain healthy body weight. In fact, more and more research suggests that dieting actually harms your basal metabolic state, making you prone to regaining even more weight than you’ve lost and having a hard time losing it (again). (Please excuse the advertising at the end of the article linked. It’s the research surrounding¬†Biggest Loser that fascinates me most. Here is also a great article by IDEA.)

 

So, the bad news is that yo-yo dieting can slow down your metabolism and a slow metabolism means that you are prone to working harder for fewer results. And then there are genes, which do account for a certain (if small) percentage toward whether or not we are naturally inclined toward thin or not-so-thin. But here is where the good news comes in!

 

Epigenetics. It’s a word most of us have never heard of before. Translated as “control above genetics,” this is the study of how environment plays a role in “turning on” and “turning off” our genes. Food is one of the main environmental factors we have in our lives and it perhaps plays one of the biggest roles in how our genes function (exercise being another main player).

 

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It seems that Hippocrates was right when he said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Scientists have discovered that bioactive compounds like phytonutrients and antioxidants play a huge role in turning on genes that help us lose and maintain a healthy weight. Healthy lifestyle and diet choices can change the expression of at least 500 genes! This is great news for those of us who struggle with things like sugar addiction because it means that a wide, varying diet full of colorful fruits and vegetables nurtures your entire body right down to genetic expression. It means that you can start remaking yourself one bite (and one activity) at a time–and in 7-10 years, you’ll literally be a whole new person!

 

In my next post on this series, I’ll be sharing the small steps that I have been taking to help reduce my sugar cravings. I knew going in to this that it wasn’t going to be something that happened overnight, but I’m happy to say that I’m slowly seeing results. Looking forward to sharing more soon!

 

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Read the Whole Series here:

Part 1

Part 2

Matcha Tea

Matcha: One Amazing Tea

October 20, 2016

I bet you think I’ve forgotten about my Confessions of a Sugar Addict thread, but I promise I have not! I simply am working my way through a ton of research, theory, and practical personal application to find what methods work well (for myself, but hopefully also for you). Stick with me because I’m coming back to this thread next week.

 

In the meantime, I wanted to share with you one amazing little thing that I’m doing to help cut my sugar cravings: I drink matcha tea 1-2 times each day.

 

I know, your head just exploded.

 

It’s true, though. When I get up in the morning, I have a small cup of match tea that I whisk up and drink. It is the perfect way to start my morning without the jittery side effects that coffee can bring or the ups and downs of sugar consumption via sweet cereal, candy, a latte, etc.

 

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I am privileged to know a tea master, who is training to become a level two tea master (I cannot recall exactly the terminology, but this is a rare honor) and has been going to Japan to learn the art of the tea ceremony. This is an amazing feat because very few Westerners actually get to do this. The last time I talked to her, I think she said there were only a handful of tea masters in the States!

 

So why matcha? Well…….

 

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Almost every Westerner who has matcha for the first time doesn’t like it very well, including Yours Truly. There are two reasons for this. First, matcha has a naturally strong flavor due to the way it’s made. It’s actually a rather long, labor-intensive process that requires shading of the tea plants so that they produce as much of their green chlorophyll as possible; the drying process of the tea leaf but not the rolling; the removal of stems and twigs; and of course turning it into powder.

 

Second, most matcha available on the market is rather low grade. You will know it’s low grade because there’s a bitterness to it. High-grade and Ceremonial-grade matchas are much sweeter and subtler in flavor than many matchas found on the market, which means their medicinal properties also stay intact better. While this does not necessarily mean those products are bad, if you plan on drinking matcha plain on the regular you want to spend the money on good quality stuff.

 

There’s been a big trend on using matcha in food and drink lately, something I saw a lot while I lived in Japan. (The Japanese love the stuff. They even have this incredible matcha-flavored ice cream. I know…..sweets again!) If you’re not sure you want to drink matcha plain, no problem. You can add it to many things, such as these:

 

 

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The great thing is that high-quality matcha is becoming more readily available and more recognized for its benefits. If you are looking to try some, there are two excellent brands that I recommend you try. Please note: I am a tea lover and do not get compensated for sharing my opinions and favorite brands.

 

  • Steeped Tea: they have two grades of matcha, their “regular” and their Ceremonial. Both are excellent. Steeped Tea has such excellent tea, I pretty much buy from them whereas I used to be a fairly loyal Teavana customer.
  • Yesterday’s Cafe: the first place I tried the best grade of matcha. The proprietor is well-versed in tea knowledge (she’s the tea master I referred to above) and makes the best matcha lemonade ever! Plus, she’s got a ton more tea goodies too!

 

In closing, I personally drink matcha because of the sustained energy boost it gives me throughout the day: I drink a cup early in the morning on an empty stomach and wait 30 minutes before I drink anything else so I have time to process the matcha well and receive its benefits. Usually I only have to drink one cup for a pick-me-up, and I’ve never had an issue going to bed even if I do have one in the afternoon. I also enjoy matcha because it helps curb my sugar cravings, which is why I’m sharing this with you in the first place! All of the other benefits are perks! So enjoy that next cuppa!

Cardiovascular exercise is important for everybody. It keeps the heart healthy and reduces the risks of cardiovascular disease associated with today’s sedentary lifestyle, yet with so many options available the rates of obesity are still growing. There are a lot of reasons for this ranging from demographics to cost, but I think a lot of the reason people don’t try a new program is because they are intimidated.

 

Exercise can be intimidating. No one wants to look bad doing it. No one wants to jiggle. The way we look in the mirror plays a huge role in how we feel, and exercise clothes are form-fitting (for safety reasons), further hindering those who feel uncomfortable in tight attire. Some people even find sweating a detracting factor.

 

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The biggest determent is time, which is why walking is such a fantastic option for those looking to increase their cardio output. There are so many ways to add walking into your routine, including:

 

  • Walk the dog
  • Park near the back of a parking lot
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator
  • Get up to stretch your legs once an hour by strolling through the office
  • Gardening
  • Hiking on the weekend at your favorite park
  • Marching in place
  • Visiting the neighbors
  • Strolling around the house while on a phone call

 

Unlike running, walking does not place a lot of impact on your joints and lower back, and the more you do it. Walking helps loosen up stiff joints while strengthening muscles and promoting weight loss. A.2015 study published in Circulation cited that physical activity was related to lower levels of cardiovascular disease, and that those who walked at faster paces and logged greater distances tended to have the lowest CVD risks. The best thing about walking is that the more you do it, the more you can do it and the easier it becomes.

 

What if you cannot start walking because of weight, joint pain, paralysis, or some other health-related issue? Try swimming instead! Pool time greatly reduces the stress put on the body while adding resistance to any movement you do. My own grandfather has used the pool for years to do exercises after his hips began bothering him, and swimming is well-known for alleviating the effects that gravity exerts on pregnant women.

 

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The typical obstacles that most people face when starting to walk or swim are proper attire and measuring their rate of exertion. It is important to wear proper footwear when you’re walking to support your joints¬†and¬†a clerk at an athletic¬†shoe store can really help you determine a good shoe to wear that falls within your budget. As for swimming, you want to make sure you’re wearing a comfortable swim suit or close-fitting attire that won’t ride up while you’re in the water. Yes, these are upfront expenses but let’s face it: compared to a life full of medical bills, this is cheap!

 

As for the rate of exertion, if you can carry on a conversation but feel somewhat breathless, that’s a great thing to achieve. You don’t have to be struggling for air to get a great workout in but you also want to make sure you’re not making it too easy on yourself. Working out takes, well, workūüėČ You ought to feel it without overdoing it.

 

The most important thing is to just get moving! Don’t worry too much about form or what you can do for how long you can do it. Moving breeds fitness and fitness brings weight loss.

There are a few things regarding exercise that I truly believe are accessible to everyone. I’ll talk about cardiovascular exercise another time but for now I want to talk about working the deep muscles of the trunk–in this case, I’m focusing on the transverse abdominis. This thick band of muscle is the deepest of the four abdominal muscles,¬†provides¬†thoracic and pelvic stability, and compresses the ribs and viscera.

 

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Source: Wikipedia (link above)

 

Pilates focuses a lot on the TA due to the immense strength and stabilization force it creates. To give a good example of its power, and why we as instructors call it the powerhouse, the TA is one of the main muscles recruited to help a woman deliver a baby (the pelvic floor muscles being the others). When I was dancing, a college professor told me that by controlling this muscle, you can really control every movement in your body, making you strong and and your movements efficiently powerful. This is something that Joseph Pilates discovered over a lifetime of studying movement, which fed his understanding of the body, body mechanics, and effective movement. His method, called Contrology, looks at the body as it is now and emphasizes the connection of mind and body through concentration during movement that results in the healing of the body, the improvement of the mind, and the elevation of the spirit.

 

In layman’s speak, that means that anyone can do Pilates. Pilates himself was a sickly child who could not get out of bed and therefore needed exercises developed by his doctors just to be able to do so. Because of this, he made it a lifelong goal to study movement and became an avid athlete, studying a wide variety of disciplines including swimming, running, gymnastics, yoga, dance, and many more, all from which he drew a knowledge base that became the foundation for his Method.

 

There are two exercises that I like to start everyone off with because I feel that they are accessible to all levels of fitness: the Pilates bridge and the 100. These two exercises connects a person with their core. For those who are brand new to exercising or Pilates, and may not be aware of the neutral position so often discussed in Pilates, here is an excellent demonstration of how to find it:

 

 

I consider the Pilates Bridge to be a foundation exercise from which everything is built. It lengthens and moves the spine, stimulating the creation of synovial fluid which helps keep all joints limber, accesses the deep muscles of the core and pelvic floor, and strengthens the muscles of the abs, pelvis, glutes, and thighs. A modification for those who are just beginning is to start with the lower back only, and over time gradually increase this movement to include the middle and upper back till you reach the full position.

 

 

The other exercise that I consider to be important is called the One Hundred. This is the exercise that begins every Pilates workout. It oxygenates the blood, stimulates circulation, and activates the deep core. Try the beginner version shown in this video until you’re ready to move to the next step.

 

 

Two other modifications for those who are not ready to extend the legs in the regular (non-advanced) exercise: when ready to lift the shoulders, 1) keep the feet on the ground or 2) keep the knees bent until you’re ready to extend the legs (first up to the sky and then out to that 45-degree angle). Make sure as you work you maintain that neutral spinal position and have patience with the exercise. Developing strength over time is safe, effective, and reduces the risk of injury. When in doubt, always start small and slow!

 

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Right now I’m working on a couple things as far as minimizing sugar consumption and clean eating. I’m still in the process of figuring things out for myself as well as doing a bunch of research on food and the Western Diet. In doing so, I’ve come across¬†a lot of dialogue concerning body size and health. While I’ve recognized these facts for some time, it is important that more people do also, so I thought I’d share them with you.

 

Myth: If I’m¬†“fat”, I’m¬†unhealthy.

Fact: Weight gain is caused by a myriad of factors, of which about 25% relates to genetics, and even more related to hormones (for women in particular). I have met women who struggle with losing weight who eat well and exercise daily, so one cannot judge just by surface appearance.

 

Myth: If I’m¬†“skinny”, I’m healthy.

Fact: Skinny doesn’t mean a thing in the realm of healthy living. There are people who are thin as a rail who develop heart disease in their 20’s because they lead a sedentary life combined with poor dietary choices. I also know people who start to gain weight the minute they begin eating well and exercising regularly–indeed, this is one way to improve overall health for those who are ¬†medically classified as underweight.

 

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Myth: If I diet, the weight will stay off.

Fact: Dieting is one of the leading causes of regaining weight–and regaining¬†more weight than one previously weighed before beginning a diet! Most people who follow a standardized diet have one of two outcomes: either they have poor results because the diet does not work well for their body type, metabolism, and so forth; or they achieve their weight loss goals and stop dieting, only to regain it all back, plus some. Yo-yo dieting is not a solution to the problem. Exchanging healthy habits for unhealthy ones over a long period of time is.

 

Myth: If I exercise, the weight melts away.

Fact:¬†There is a lot of truth to this statement, yet many¬†people will find this more difficult than others due to a body’s initial homeostatic preferences, hormone- and disease-related issues, current dietary habits, sleep patterns, workplace stress factors, support in relationships (friendship, romance, parents, etc.), medications, mental health…the list can go on for pages.

 

Myth: If obesity¬†runs in the family, there’s nothing I can do about it.

Fact: Genetics only make up about 25% of the picture, and a lot of what is perceived as hereditary actually comes back to the habits you learned as a child. Choices matter even when they don’t add up to the emaciated super-modelesque physique popular culture thrusts upon us each day. They matter a¬†lot!

 

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Myth: If I’m obese when considering a proper diet and exercise regimen to begin, surgery is my only option.

Fact: Surgeries that help reduce weight rapidly should not be looked at as a permanent solution to the equation. For those who are morbidly obese, surgery is a starting point for your weight loss journey. The problem so many people find is that the moment they undo them, they gain back more weight than ever before. If surgery is something you are considering, you must discuss habitual lifestyle behaviors with your team of specialists (physician, registered dietitian, surgeon, personal trainer, therapist, etc.) in order to determine what steps you need to take are right for you. In my opinion, surgery is a last resort and only the first step to consistent, positive lifestyle habits.

 

The bottom line¬†is if you’re having issues losing weight via “mainstream” diet and health guidelines, consulting your physician is a good place to start. Depending on your situation, you may need to work with a team of people that include a registered dietitian, personal trainer, psychologist, and other therapists. You should seek referrals from your doctor and anyone else you are currently working with in order to discover and tackle the issues you are facing, but at the end of the day, determination will win the day!

 

There is no one right kind of body shape. We are all created from a unique mold. Embrace your curves (or lack thereof) and think about why you are really here in this world. It isn’t to look amazing every single moment of every single day (not even Hollywood stars that do that). Utimately, it is to fulfill your purpose and live generously.

Working Out with Toddlers

September 15, 2016

A lot of us have been there, are there, or will be there. We’re trying to be healthy and exercise…and we’ve got littles running around, climbing on you or something else, and it’s really,¬†really hard to focus or get a full set of reps in when you’re constantly jumping up to handle some situation. Some days are better than others. Some days you want to throw in the towel.

 

Don’t!

 

One of the things I’ve been doing a lot this summer is exercising out of my own home. It’s hard. I love going to the gym. I love having “me time.” I mean, I¬†really love having “me time.” I need it. It’s part of the way I stay healthy and sane as a full-time parent. Yet this summer was incredibly challenging because a) hubby ended up working third shift at his job, which meant he slept most of the day, and b) I don’t have anyone to help me handle kids (without having to pay a sitter, and that is not always an option with our tight budget).

 

I’ve been analyzing what has and has not been working for me and I think I’ve come up with a short but sweet list of ways to exercise at home while you have (young) children present:

 

Pick a time of day you want to exercise and stick to it.

I recommend mornings since that is when we have the most self-control and self-motivation, but that doesn’t always work for some people. Whether it’s evenings after the kids go to bed or nap time or another time altogether, mark it in your daily calendar and just do it.

 

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Plan out what you’re going to do before you do it.

This way you can exercise without having to dither about whether to grab weight or that DVD, or not, saving you time. This also means that if you want to start a new regimen, you need to discuss it with your doctor (where applicable; for instance, when you’re recovering from childbirth or have an ongoing illness/medical condition), order the appropriate equipment and literature, etc.

 

Set ground rules while you’re working out.

Your kids need to know what is and isn’t safe–and there are things we use or do while exercising that are not safe for children. Educate yourself on them and draw the line in the sand. This will not only establish what is and isn’t allowed as far as behavior and play go during this time, it also sends a message to your kids that they AND your exercise matter.

 

Invite your kids to join you.

As counter-intuitive as this sounds, asking your children to join you during a dance video or while you are stretching out on your yoga mat will lead to them practicing healthier behaviors later in life and a whole lot of good memories too.

 

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Mom and Daughter Exercising

 

When all else fails and you just need some “quiet time”, ask for help!

It’s okay to seek out some help from a friend, family, or a spouse. Offer to trade gym time with a girlfriend or ask your spouse for an hour every day they can spare it. Do not feel guilty or be embarrassed to ask. Remember that you’re worth this time: it will leave you feeling refreshed and ready to handle all the situations life (and your kids) throw at you.

 

Finally, remember to keep a very good sense of humor! Toddlers want to be involved in everything you’re doing and they’re going to want to be at the center of it all. In my own experience, that means sitting in my lap when I’m working on stretches. Take a deep breath, talk to them (I know, not very yogi-like), and delight in their hugs and kisses. They grow up so fast. Enjoy them while you can. These moments will make sweet memories on which you can dwell the rest of your life, even when you’re once again a regular gym rat.

With Sunday football back in action, this Skinny Roasted Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Dip makes for the most perfect appetizer. It‚Äôs made with a non-fat Greek yogurt base, pureed roasted red peppers, and goat cheese! Anyone else have a significant other who is OBSESSED with fantasy football? Not only is Mark really in¬†to…‚Ķ

via Skinny Roasted Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Dip ‚ÄĒ Fit Foodie Finds

Sugar. I’ve talked about it before, sometimes at length. But it’s also my guilty little secret–I love sugar A LOT. And when I start eating it, I have a hard time stopping. It’s a vicious cycle and it’s one I really want to stop.

 

I had been thinking about the reality of sugar addiction and then I watched this video by a fellow Jamberry consultant, and decided it was time to talk about this in length:

 

 

Now, I’m not here to recommend a diet plan. If you are interested in something like the ketogenic diet, you should consult a registered dietitian. What I’m really here to discuss is the sad reality of the Western way of eating.

 

First and foremost, if you read labels when you go shopping, you almost always find sugar as a main ingredient in packaged and processed foods. It is well documented that sugar is addictive and in fact can be a replacement for drugs like cocaine. It has even been suggested that sugar addiction should be treated as a form of drug abuse. The change in behavior after eating sugar is undeniable. When my own children have sweets, they become much wilder, less able to entertain themselves, hungrier more frequently, and often less willing to follow household rules. I have found myself eating more food more frequently than I really need to on days that I have anything sweet–and I mean¬†anything sweet.

 

Sugar is in everything. Take a look at this article. (I’m not recommending the services offered here. I just want you to look at how much sugar (in grams) there is per serving in some common foods.)

 

Here’s the kicker! For years, I’ve followed foodie blogs that tout using different alternatives to wheat and so forth because they’re considered healthier (and there’s good argument for the use of many of these alternative flours, oils, spices, etc.). I absolutely¬†love desserts, so whenever one comes up, I look at it…but I had an epiphany this month: just because it uses healthier ingredients doesn’t meant it is any less sweet or less addictive. Let me just repeat myself one more time:

 

Just because it uses healthier ingredients doesn’t mean it is any LESS sweet or less addictive!

 

This is huge, because I think many people want to live healthier lifestyles. There’s huge talk about superfoods, gluten-free alternatives, stevia, bone broth, diets of all kinds…the list goes on and on. I think most who ascribe to a Western diet (and there are some major differences between it and Eastern and Mediterranean diets, which I’ll talk about at length in a later post), who struggle with their own growing midsections, increased inflammation in the body as a whole, heart disease and diabetes, malnutrition (yes, this can happen even if you’re consuming enough calories), and even negative mindset, anxiety and depression–in fact, most people in general–want to eat better. (Including myself! Hello, fellow sugar addicts!)

 

Herein lies the roots of the problem:

 

  1. We all lead extremely busy lives these days.
  2. Convenience foods, like those found in packages, are often quick, inexpensive, and last on the shelf for a long time. (Hint: if they have an expiration date that is longer than a few weeks, that should be a clue as to how “real” the food is.)
  3. Cooking can be hard work and it’s usually low on our daily to-do list. (I mean, let’s face it. Coming home dog tired to a refrigerator full of whole foods just doesn’t sound like fun some days, right? Instead, we say, “Where’s the pantry?”)
  4. Food is often used as a reward and during almost all celebrations and special events–this particularly applies to sweet, fatty, and salty foods.
  5. Uh, hello advertising! We love how convenient you tell us your products are.

 

I am on a journey. It’s going to be a¬†really, really hard journey for me because I sincerely love sweets. However, I want to be healthy instead of filling my body up with junk. My body¬†was created for a purpose–I was created for a purpose–and I need to take care of myself. I’m in my 30’s, I have children who look at everything I do (and they’re asking for sweets way too often), and I don’t want diseases that results from inflammation and weight gain¬†to cripple me. Yes, I’m a yoga and Pilates instructor and shouldn’t all fitness instructors eat raw leaves and twigs and never even bat an eyelash at junk foods? No, sorry. We’re humans too, prone to indulging every so often. My problem is that I tend to indulge¬†too often.

 

I hope you will join me in my quest for an easier way to eat without suffering from the constant hankering of a sweet tooth. I’m sure I’ll bumble, stumble, and rediscover a lot of amazing things along the way, and I look forward to sharing them here with the hope that my own thoughts help you become a better, healthier version of yourself.

The title might be a little misleading because it really points to my own struggles of finding something close to the location where I’m currently living right now that will fulfill the 10 contact hours required once every three years by Yoga Alliance to keep your certification. But then, of course, that’s got me thinking about how exactly you go about finding a workshop or even a certification program.

 

First and foremost, it requires a lot of thought, patience, and vigilance. You’ve got to wade through a lot of information and a lot of opportunities. You need to know what you’re looking for, which can be hard when a lot of things appear interesting. And you need to know your budget and how much time you can commit to it. Can you really afford to go to beautiful Thailand for a full month?

 

I, for one, chose to do the YogaFit program to earn my 200-RYT because I didn’t have to sign up for a whole certification program at one time. I could pay as I went and the certificates I received from them never expired. It took me about 2 years to do mainly because I had my eldest child and therefore it became harder for me to travel. It fit very well into my budget, and I was also very fortunate to have the help of a military spouse’s scholarship. (If you are a military spouse, check to see if you’re eligible for the MyCAA scholarship!) My favorite parts of the trainings, however, is that while they built upon tradition they did not promote any one world view and they came from a place of safety so that everyone learned how to bring yoga to everybody with every body.

 

Last of all, make sure you know what your commitments are. There’s a yoga program that I’m interested but it requires something like 3 hours of practice each day. With two very young children, that is not a realistic program for me because I could not dedicate the time required to study (and I’d feel bad if I didn’t do it). Read everything. Ask questions of the program or studio you’re interested in. Learn about your potential investment as much as possible, because it is an investment in yourself! And be excited when you find the right workshop or certification program. It’s an adventure to take one, a learning experience to embrace, and an excellent way to improve and take care of yourself.