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.

 

Linked to source

Linked to source

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.

Although I’ve been posting each week, I’m unplugging. I’ve felt the need to step away from my computer for a little bit. With my daughter determined to walk and explore, I think now is a great time to spend time with the family and knuckle down to do other things I’ve been needing to accomplish. Below is the monthly list of fitness and health related articles and recipes for your enjoyment!

 

Articles

5 Tips to Manage Sugar Cravings

Spring Clean Your Diet

Intermittent Fasting

What Comes After Planks?

Total-body Barbell Training

Standing Core Training

Life-changing Strength Exercises

6 Agility-improving Exercises

Training for a Marathon (handout)

Foam Roller Warm-up

12 Ways to Use a Foam Roller

Fat-blasting Interval Treadmill Workout

20-minute Tabata Workout (options)

The Science of Fat Burning

Too Big for Yoga? (The answer may surprise you.)

Make Your Own Soap without Lye

 

Recipes

Turmeric Tonic

Lemon Lover’s Smoothie

Pumpkin Coconut Hot Cereal

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Pancakes

Lentil Crackers (vegan)

How to Make Bone Broth (video tutorial)

Cilantro Lime Avocado Spread

Citrus Quinoa Salad

Cheesy Spinach Bake

2-Ingredient Pesto Chicken Skewers

Lemon Coconut Bars

Single-serve Vanilla Cupcake (Paleo)

Raspberry Crumble Cake (gluten-free)

Last week, I wrote about finding a yoga class that fits your needs. This week, I thought I’d dig a little deeper, starting with five things to bring to class and ending with how to incorporate it more into your daily life. It’s important to remember that yoga as exercise sells at gyms because it promises flexibility, lean muscles, toned bodies, and so forth; but in reality, yoga embodies more than a fit, beautiful body. It’s embracing love, kindness, and respect toward yourself and others too.

 

Five Things to Bring to Class

Linked to source

Linked to source

1. A mat. Not only is often a requirement to come to class, but it’s more sanitary. It also allows you to create your own space in order to reconnect with yourself.

2.  A block and strap. Although not often required, blocks and straps (and props in general) are excellent tools to help you move into poses more gently, avoiding injury.

3. Plenty of water. Whether or not you drink it while practicing, water is important to rehydrate and cleanse the body of toxins.

4. A towel. When you start yoga, you’ll start sweating, particularly if you are new or unused to this kind of movement. Having a towel not only keeps your eyes from stinging but can reduce slipperiness on  your mat.

5. Open communication. Safety is key. Instructors need to learn about any medical conditions you may have, in order that they can modify or eliminate certain postures from the practice to keep you from injury. Additionally, it’s nice to hear constructive feedback on class so that we can improve it for you.

 

Five Things to Remember While Practicing

1.  It’s not only about the body. Sure, the benefits are innumerable, from losing weight to clear skin to a lean figure. But yoga does not stop there. It digs deeper. It peels away the layers. It’s you greeting yourself, or meeting yourself for the first time in a long time.

2. It’s saying, “Yes I can.” Sadly, I mainly see two kinds of people who come to class: those who wind up staying and those who don’t. Coming with a defeatist mindset (“I cannot do this!”) sets you up for failure before you start. Remembering that achieving the correct posture takes time–even years–and that your body is unique, with results in physicality varying from day to day, sets you up for a great practice regardless of whether or not you achieve the poses.

3. Patience is a virtue. As stated above, learning and moving into postures, developing correct alignment, achieving maximum range of motion (flexibility), utilizing the deep belly muscles (bandhas), flowing easily and comfortably, maintaining focus (drishti), and breathing (pranayama) can take years to master, if not a lifetime. Even then, there will be days when practice just doesn’t go according to the way you’d envisioned it. That’s okay! Have patience. You’ll get there someday.

4. Smiling helps. I often tell this to my students when they’re looking particularly grim or strained. Not only does a smile utilize fewer muscles in the face, it also brings with it a sense of levity and even an laugh. And, let’s face it, laughter is the best medicine!

5. Yoga is what you make it. One of my instructors said that her husband’s yoga was golf. That was very profound for me because I realized that there really are an infinite number of ways to practice yoga. It’s not just a set of poses, or breathing, or reaching out to a stranger in love, meditating, reading scripture, or praying to God. It’s all of the above, and how you choose to do these is entirely up to you.

 

The Yamas and Niyamas

The yamas and niyamas are lesser-known, less talked about limbs of yoga, often because there’s a fear of being perceived as telling others what to do. I like to think of them as guidelines on self-care and communal response (and responsibility). Broken into two groups of five, the yamas, or restraints, and niyamas, or observances, discuss how to treat yourself and others while cutting out excess and excessiveness. (For a more detailed look, read The Yamas and Niyamas, by Deborah Adele.)

 

Linked to source

Linked to source

The Yamas

1. Ahimsa, “non-violence.” We’ve all heard the saying, “Do unto others as you would want done to you.” This core principle of yoga says that we should never act or react in a harmful manner, no matter what someone does to us. However, this doesn’t mean that we should become carpets to be walked upon. We have a right to stand up for ourselves but we should do so without inflicting harm.

2. Satya, “truthfulness.” This is perhaps the hardest yama to keep. We all want to be accepted but what happens when being accepted means lying? Satya says that we should choose to be real with compassion (as it’s closely linked with ahimsa) rather than being merely nice or self-indulgent. It’s about using discretion when we speak, choosing our words carefully, and yet maintaining our honesty and, therefore, integrity.

3. Asteya, “non-stealing.” Just as satya asks us to speak with integrity, asteya asks us to live with it. Not only should we not steal from others, but also ourselves, our posterity, and the world we inhabit.

4. Brahmacharya, “non-excess.” Many times translated as “celibacy” or “abstinence”, this principle goes further than mere sex. It’s about taming our urges to overindulge in all aspects of life, about discerning our needs versus wants. Along with this is an invitation to live with God rather than excess, thereby turning our attention away from ourselves toward something better, holier.

5. Aparigraha, “non-possessiveness.” More simply stated as “let go”, this yama encourages us to live life to the fullest, with joy yet with the ability to drop everything for God. It’s a reminder that so often, possessions actually possess us, and that we really cannot take anything with us when we depart from this life. Not to be confused with apathy or not caring, aparigraha allows us to enjoy life without clinging to things.

 

The Niyamas

1. Saucha, “purity.” This has a two-fold application. The first is that self-purification, or cleansing, is important for the body, mind, and our mouth. The second can be applied to relationships. In other words, saucha is not about trying to make something or someone else pure but rather being with the moment as it transpires in the best way we can: without ideals, illusions, expectations, judgements, fear, and so on. It’s learning to become “in-touch” with ourselves–our emotions and thoughts–and when we do this, we can start losing the heaviness we carry within our bodies.

2. Santosha, “contentment.” Being truly content means not seeking for something or someone to make us happy, but rather to find joy in what life has brought us thus far. This isn’t just about material possessions or relationships, it’s about plain old gratitude for ourselves exactly as we are right now.

3. Tapas, “self-discipline.” Literally translated as “heat”, the root of this principle is change. It’s asking ourselves the hard questions, why are we doing what we’re doing. It’s developing a daily practice, not only physically, but also mentally. It’s about choosing the better thing, the better way of living.

4. Svadhyaya, “self-study.” It can be very difficult to pull back the layers we so carefully have constructed in order to meet the person we know as us, or the person we think we know. Self-study asks us to look past the ego, to find the roots of our beliefs, and to learn how to witness ourselves as we go through life.

5. Ishvara pranidhana, “surrender.” Perhaps the touchiest of the niyamas as it presupposes Divinity, it invites us to let go of the ego and enjoy the life we are given. It asks us to look for our higher calling. When the ego surrenders, the heart expands.

 

Five Ways to Take Yoga Off the Mat

Linked to source

Linked to source

1. Go for a gratitude walk. Wherever you are, take a (timed) walk and say–and feel–thanks for everything you encounter, be it in the city or in nature.

2. Practice single-pointed mindfulness with a specific task. Don’t let the mind run away with you. Stay focused on one thing. It may be folding laundry or washing dishes. It may be reading. The choice is yours. Just stay focused on it and it alone, regardless of the distractions that arise (and they will).

3. Give back. One of the best ways to get past ourselves is to volunteer. Choose an group that stimulates your interest or works in something you are passionate about, and dedicate a certain number of hours a week/month to giving back.

4. Grow a garden. Part of yoga is taking care of yourself. Statistically, Americans eat fewer servings of fruits and (especially) vegetables than any other food group. Growing a garden not only gets you in touch with nature and the seasons, it teaches self-reliance and self-sufficiency. Bonus perks include better nutrition, potential weight loss, and quiet time to meditate or reconnect with ourselves.

5. Keep and journal or write letters to yourself. This is a simple way of getting things off your chest, gossiping, and reconnecting with your thoughts and emotions with little to no risk of anyone else ever reading it. You can even burn the letters once they’ve been written. The most important aspect of this exercise is to explore why you think, believe or feel this way, and find the root beliefs underlining them. From there, you can decide whether or not they are good to keep.

Linked to source

Linked to source

Yoga is good for you. It is also a booming business. There are a plethora of choices out there as to how you can go about developing and maintaining a practice: studios, gyms, online websites, DVD’s, private instruction, books, audio CD’s, and so forth. The sheer number of options can leave you overwhelmed and wondering where to begin. Here are 10 quick, easy tips to get you on your way.

 

1. Figure out how much you can spend per month on classes. The average going rate nationwide (USA) for a yoga class is $30. That may or may not be doable for you, but there are a lot of other options out there. Gyms, the local YMCA’s, non-profit organizations (for yoga or otherwise), local groups that get together, ads in the paper, and so forth are often cheaper than going to a studio. However, studios are great for getting the individual attention you may need and may not get from other groups, which may have very large classes. Do your research for your location, find out what’s most feasible for you. Practicing yoga with others is a lot of fun and can help build adherence to your routine. If you’re a beginner or have special needs, I highly recommend taking some classes in order to get feedback, even if you only go once a week and continue practicing at home the rest of the time.

 

2. Can’t afford regular classes? No problem! Check out online websites like Gaiam and YogaGlo, YouTube, DVD’s, and books–to name a few options. These are often far cheaper and can be used daily, weekly, monthly, however often you choose to practice. Once you’re familiar with the postures, you can mix and match to your heart’s content.

 

3. Invest in quality yoga equipment. Mainly, a good yoga mat (whatever your price range is), a block or two, and a strap. (If you’re tall, go with an extra-long mat; if you have a longer tailbone or joints that need extra padding, go with a mat that’s thicker.) Other things like bolsters and blankets can often be acquired over time or found in studio settings.

 

4. It takes time to find the right practice for you. Go to more than one instructor, more than one location, in order to find the practice that clicks with your needs. Try at-home choices at those at gyms or local clubs. Eventually, you’ll figure out what works best for you.

 

5. Move into practicing gently, with mindfulness. Injury happens when we push ourselves too hard into poses that we’re physically not ready for, and when we forget to breathe. Take the time to gently move into postures, using the breath as a guide and gauge for how you’re feeling today.

 

Linked to source

Linked to source

6. Let go of competitiveness. It’s easy to look at your neighbor who can twist himself or herself into knots and try to follow suit, but that’s not the goal of yoga. Stay focused on what’s happening on your own mat, how you’re feeling as you go through your practice, and how you feel at the end of it. The quickest way to feelings of defeat is to repeatedly try a posture before we’re ready for it. (Trying a posture to figure out where you’re capable of going is one thing, and you’ll know if you’re ready or not by whether it feels easy and comfortable (or not)–the only two requirements for any pose.)

 

7. Let go of antagonism toward yourself. In recent years, a lot of research has come out about thoughts and how they affect the body. Basically, you have two brains, one in your head and one in your gut. The one in your head takes your thoughts and creates neuropeptides from them. The one in your gut translates the neuropeptides and sends them into different parts of the body. When we have a negative thought about our shape, our physicality, anything at all, your body reacts by tightening, shortening, preparing to fight or take flight. Conversely, when we have a positive thought about ourselves, we relax, lengthen, soften.

 

8. Take your practice outside. Nature is known for its healing qualities, not only in the foods we eat but in the serenity it brings. Finding a nice location to practice in enhances both practice and mood.

 

9. Build tapas.  Translated as “heat,” this idea is to develop discipline in our lives. Start by committing 1-3 days per week to practicing yoga and, barring any natural disasters or emergencies, do it, no matter how badly you’d like to be doing something else. You’ll thank yourself for doing so.

 

10. Be prepared for change. One wild truth about yoga is that when you begin practicing regularly, stuff shifts. Your body shifts, your emotions shift, events in your life shift, how you handle confrontation shifts. This isn’t religious mumbo-jumbo. It just happens. Embrace the changes. As we all know, nothing remains the same forever anyway.

 

One final word on aches and pains. It is common to have snaps, crackles, and pops when you start yoga. It’s your body loosening and opening. It’s also common to have muscle soreness post-practice. Provided that it’s not debilitating in any way, this too is fine. The aches and pains instructors (and you) should be most interested in are any that are sharp and biting, intense pulling on joints or muscles, sudden cramping that doesn’t go away after release and a quick massage of the area, tingling and numbness (some of this is normal but always check), or anything that results in dislocation, dizziness, or worse. If any of these things occur, always consult your physician and let your instructor (if you have one) know what caused it. Usually they’ll know how to modify it to prevent these things from happening again.

 

Yoga is not about twisting past your limits, physically or otherwise. It is about creating space in our lives for ourselves, finding a center within ourselves to help keep us steady when life gets crazy, and contentment, peace, and love. It’s about learning how to expand our boundaries, breathe and relax, and live as a human being, not a human doing.

Linked to website

Linked to website

There are a lot of resources out there telling us that we need to do more weight training to sculpt ourselves into stunners, especially women who are at higher risk of osteoporosis. I’m going to run through all three types of weight training in order to help you pick which is best for you, as well as give an argument about why one of them is vital to daily living. All exercise, especially strength training, however, should be done with the breath, control, and precise movements. Jerky and forceful motions, as well as erratic breathing, will lead to injury. Slow, controlled movements done with the breath lead to proper gains.

 

First up is endurance strength training. This is defined by doing a low weight for a high number of repetitions (reps). Generally, we want to pick something that’s fairly easy to lift for 6-8 reps and then do this for 20-25 for three or more sets, even increasing the amount of weight we lift slightly with each subsequent set, with shorter rest periods between sets. With some exercises, you can use body weight instead of barbells. Endurance is great for toned, lean muscles and joint stabilization. A lot of women prefer this method of weight training, especially older women or those who have joint issues, because it prevents “bulk up.” (Granted, women will never get extremely bulky like men; however, they can put on quite a bit of muscle, if desired.)

 

Endurance weight training does not need a partner to train with, though it is good to get proper starter training from a trainer or have a gym buddy to workout with for support. There are also a lot of thoughts on how to vary endurance training so you don’t end up doing the same workout, day in and day out, which leads to your body not seeing gains (like here). This description is just the most traditional way of approaching it, often the first way to do so.

 

Next, the classical strength weight training. This is defined by lifting a high weight for a low number of reps, ending on or working toward one maximum strength rep. The word behind this kind of weight training is force. This is the one you’ll often see more men doing, as this leads to bulkier muscles more quickly. This is also the one that can lead to injury most quickly if done with haste and improper body alignment. (Therefore, if you aren’t sure how to do an exercise safely, ask a gym staff member/trainer or watch YouTube videos for how-to tutorials given by trainers.)

 

It is highly recommended that most, if not all, of strength-building weight exercises be done with a partner, at least when beginning until you know your body or if you’re trying to make bigger, barbell-groaning gains. A lot of serious weight lifters also keep track of their progress in pocket-sized books. They also tend to break up a whole-body workout over three or more days, depending on how many sets they plan on doing and the time they have.

 

Linked to website

Linked to website

Last is functional training, which is actually both a strength and cardiovascular workout. This, I think, is my favorite form of “weight” training as it doesn’t necessarily require you to use just the traditional free weights or weight machines. You can use all sorts of equipment, from kettlebells, weighted balls, stability balls, body weight, resistance bands, suspension equipment, and cardio machines, for starters. Often, you do a medium number of repetitions for a certain number of sets, interspersing them between bouts of cardiovascular work.

 

Functional training is perhaps the most vital of the strength workouts you can do because rather than just pumping weights in a static pose, dynamic movements that you do throughout the day (say, squatting to pick up a large object) are incorporated into the strength work. This not only allows you to utilize more muscles–especially those around your core–but it has the added benefit of improving balance, coordination and concentration, as well as keeping the body in slight discomfort (not major) in order to keep seeing gains. A lot of older individuals prefer this kind of workout as it helps counteract the aging process, but there are several popular workouts that have come along in the last decade which appeal to a mass audience, such as TRX. Functional training also helps rehabilitate injuries, allowing the body to heal without overdoing it with a more “traditional” weight training regimen until it’s ready to begin one again.

 

I’d like to add that all strength training programs should be followed by range of motion work, whether you do static stretching or a yoga class. This is because bulkier muscles tighten down upon joints, leading to increased risk of injury. Do your flexibility work at the end of your workout, allowing your body to properly cool down and relax, before dashing out the gym door back to your busy life.

 

The best strength programs incorporate all three kinds of training. If you aren’t sure where to start, approach a gym trainer for ideas, even if you cannot afford to purchase training sessions with them. They are usually bursting with information. Cannot afford a gym membership? Consider investing in an at-home training program and any necessary equipment, or one of those online workout websites. Cannot do that either? Check out YouTube. There are millions of how-to videos out there. Just make sure the ones you watch are done with good anatomical alignment and offer progression steps in case you cannot perform the whole exercise right off the bat.

 

Most of all, have fun!