Feed The Faith, Question the Belief

MONDAY MANTRA: Feed the faith, question the belief.

As a new year begins, we feel a renewed sense of hope for what lies ahead. We make resolutions to do better, and be better, but what can we do to ensure that we actually become a better version of ourselves this year?

Our best hope for transforming our lives is getting to the root of how we make choices. Are our decisions founded in faith, or founded in belief?

Faith is who we are and what we know at our core; the undeniable truths of our lives. I like to think of faith like the roots of a tree, because faith grows strong from the inside out. No matter how intense the storm, what we know for sure will never change. When we are connected with our faith, we feel free and happy. Everything is exactly as it should be, and we can do anything we set our mind to.

Belief is that which is founded in ego–it can be easily swayed by the world around us, like the leaves and branches of a tree. Belief emerges from our experiences, and is influenced by the expectations and ideas of others. Because belief grows strong from the outside, and forces its way inward, it can make us feel imprisoned, and incapable of change. We might know that we can change because of our faith, but because we have given power to belief, we are not able to live up to our resolutions.

Through the practice of yoga we learn the value of satya, seeking universal truths, and being truthful, in every situation. Satya encourages us to be honest with ourselves, to question our beliefs, and to invest in that which is undeniable. We are worthy. We can grow stronger. We can control our responses to the world around us. These are all things that can no one can take away from us.

As you make plans for an amazing year ahead, remind yourself to feed the faith, and question the beliefs. Watching your thoughts will open new possibilities in your life, and faith will empower you to make those dreams come true.

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Yoga’s Got An App For That

I am a creative type and a seeker, always evolving, always looking for the next best thing. It’s the reason I could never stick to a diet, and trendy workouts came and went quickly. Yoga, however, is a totally different story.

Yoga works for me because it is an extremely versatile practice, that can be applied in numerous ways that support my health goals. The possibilities within the practice are endless, and the experience can be different every time. I love this.

I also love yoga because it helps me control my weight, tone my body, and quiet my mind. I don’t need props, gimmicks, or diet clinics to stay in shape. It is wildly empowering to know that all I need to be healthy, strong, and content is already within me.

I didn’t come to this realization overnight…it took a while to embrace the possibilities of yoga. When I first started taking classes, it seemed like every practice was the same. But once I got past my initial resistance, I started noticing that yoga was subtly shaping my body, and my life. I became curious, and hopeful, about what might come next. And what came next was surprisingly awesome in every way.

I still feel that way, fifteen years later. There is always something more to learn and achieve on my mat, and that makes me hopeful and profoundly happy.

The reason yoga is so adaptable, is that it meant to be learned experientially, in a very personal way. The original yogis did not attend large classes…they taught themselves, or studied with a mentor. It’s pretty much the opposite of how yoga is taught today, which is why it takes longer for new yogis to see the value of the practice.

The best way to understand how to apply yoga to your life, is to experiment with a variety of approaches to the practice. Only then can you own your yoga, and use it to reach your goals. Here’s a quick and easy way to understand how you might vary your practice to optimize the benefits:

Sun Salutation B

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Flow through the above sequence once or twice, to get a feel for the asanas (poses).

Next, practice Sun Salutation B three different ways:

1) Make it a moving meditation. Align your breath with your movements. Inhale as you move into asanas with up arrows, and exhale as you move into asanas with down arrows. When you are done, close your eyes, stand with your hands joined at your heart for three full breaths, and notice how you feel.

2) Build strength. Practice the sequence again, but instead of moving with each breath, hold each pose for five full breaths. Notice how you feel after round 2.

3) Cultivate awareness. Practice the sequence a third time, but this time make the transitions just as important as the poses. Move with grace from pose to pose, and breath deeply. Make it as beautiful and flowing as you can. Then stop, close your eyes, and notice the energy flow in your body afterward.

Lastly, remember that savasana (corpse pose) is always the final pose of every practice. Make sure to take at least a minute on your mat in savasana, with eyes closed, and a quiet mind, to complete the experience.

My hope is that this experiment will demonstrate that yoga can be anything we want it to be. If we want to cultivate inner peace, yoga has an app for that. If we want to tone our bodies, there’s an app for that, too. And if we want to live our life with greater awareness, well, yoga’s got an app for that, as well.

Most of all, give yourself time to grow into the practice. Commit to at least six months of classes, videos, and/or books, and trust that there is value in the process, no matter what you ultimately decide about yoga’s applicability to your life.

Photo: http://www.devilintheflesh.net

Crazy Healthy Food 101

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I was five years into my yoga practice, before I discovered the connection between the food I was eating, and the quality of my health. I had embraced the value of working hard to control my mind and body, but I was totally reckless in my relationship with food.

Despite my efforts to be healthier, my weight was fluctuating, and I couldn’t get rid of chronic migraines. Why wasn’t working out, and practicing yoga, enough to make me crazy healthy?

My super-smart yogi friend, Charlie, explained that working out and yoga would never bring my health into complete balance, if I wasn’t eating nutrient-rich diet. He convinced me to try a fruit and veggie detox. It sounded crazy, but I was desperate, so I took his advice.

What I did was extreme–just fruits, vegetables, and water for two weeks. No medications, no caffeine, and no added sugar. Just a lot of bananas at first, and then other raw foods toward the end.

During the detox, I tried to eat something small every hour that I was awake, so I was never hungry. I learned to change my mind about why I was eating. It was really hard, and it took a lot of discipline, but it was definitely worth every sacrifice.

After it was over, I never wanted to return to my previous habits. My headaches went away, and I was able to better control my weight on this nutrient-dense diet. I realized that, more than anything, food is fuel, and the quality of the food we eat affects everything about our health. Our bodies need, and deserve, a diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.

Charlie’s fruit and veggie detox is a radical approach to getting healthy. It worked for me, but it will only work for you, if you are ready for an extreme change.

Those who want to ease into this crazy healthy life, can begin by following these simple tips:

1. Just say no to fake foods. Health-inhibiting foods are anything that contains gluten, dairy, preservatives, artificial flavors or colors, and added sugars or sweeteners (stevia is ok). Genetically modified foods are also health-inhibiting, so avoid non-organic soy and corn products. I think of these as fake foods, and things I don’t want in my body.

2. Stock up on foods from the earth. Animal products and fake foods are lower in nutrients than whole foods, so use them in moderation. Try to fill your fridge, cabinets, and countertops with fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, beans, and gluten-free grains. Fresh foods are higher in nutrient content, but it’s ok to supplement with frozen and canned when necessary.

3. Make a plan to be successful. Write down what you ate today, and yesterday, and determine what percentage was nutrient-dense. Commit to increase that percentage by 10% each week, until you reach 80%. Over time, the healthy stuff will “squeeze out” the fake foods. Your palate will change, as you refine your diet, and soon you will crave the healthy stuff, more than the fake stuff.

3. Learn how to roast vegetables. The best advice I ever heard for increasing veggie intake is that most vegetables taste great roasted. It’s true, and so easy: just toss with grapeseed or sunflower oil, salt, and pepper, and roast at 450 for ten minutes. Broccoli, brussel sprouts, asparagus, and sweet potatoes are my favorites. Get in the habit of preparing extras for leftovers, also, to save prep time the next day.

4. Drink mostly water. Self-explanatory, but this can be a big change for a lot of people. Drinks other than water can actually be dehydrating, and health-inhibiting, especially if they contain caffeine. You can allow yourself one cup of coffee or tea if you must, but remember that caffeine can be harmful in large doses.

5. Avoid absolutes. You don’t have to be 100% raw, or totally vegetarian to be crazy healthy. What you do need to do, is find a balance that works for you. I feel better when I limit animal products, but you might find that you need a little now and then. Do some research, try new recipes, and figure out what makes you feel your best. It’s also important to remind yourself that you can still have an unhealthy treat once in a while. You are not giving up ice cream forever; you are simply reframing it’s place in your life.

I know it seems overwhelming. It kind of is, until you get into a groove. But trust me, you will be glad you did. It’s been ten years since I switched to a nutrient-dense diet, and I really can’t imagine eating any other way.

I understand why this approach works now, and will talk more about that in future posts. In the meantime, give these tips a try, and trust that they will, over time, lead you to the crazy healthy life you always hoped for.

*Photo: http://www.rawfullyorganic.com

Chick-fil-A, The Crazy Healthy Way

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At three o’clock this afternoon, I got an email from a parent in my daughter’s class that said, “In honor of Charlie’s birthday tomorrow, we will bring lunch from Chick-fil-A for the entire class. It’s his favorite meal: chicken nuggets and fruit.”

My first reaction was, “Uh-oh, how am I going to make this right for my little one?” She is severely allergic to gluten, and we know from experience that the wheat in Chick-fil-A chicken nuggets makes her wheeze, and fight for breath. I knew she would be sad to miss out Charlie’s birthday treat.

And then I came to my senses. What a great opportunity! The perfect way to remind my kids that there is ALWAYS a yummier, and healthier, choice than fast food.

I did not grow up in the South, like many of my friends here in Atlanta, and my mom was more of a baker than a chef. So, I have no experience with frying anything. But tonight I would finally try my hand at frying chicken, and I would do it in a crazy healthy way.

We also don’t eat meat very often, so I was surprised/happy to find one package of organic chicken breasts in the fridge. All systems GO.

I cut the chicken into small pieces, dipped it in egg or egg replacer, then dipped it in a mixture of Pamela’s Gluten-Free Baking and Pancake Mix, salt, and pepper. I think of myself as an intuitive cook (translated: I find it hard to follow recipes, and would rather figure things out as I go), so I just guessed at how much baking mix, salt and pepper to use.

I also guessed at how to work with the oil. Grapeseed oil is flavorless and has a high smoke point, so this seemed the best option for frying (coconut oil is healthier, but I thought the taste would be too strong). I doubled the amount of oil I usually use to sauté veggies, and let it get nice and hot over medium-high heat, before adding the chicken.

And then I thought, why not go all the way, and replicate the Kids Meals at Chick-fil-A?

Hmm…how to recreate the sides in a hurry? Toss new potatoes with grapeseed oil and salt, and roast them at 450 degrees for ten minutes. Slice some apples, and voila! Faux Chick-fil-A in a crazy healthy way.

Not as nutrient-dense as most of our dinners, but we all need to live a little, right? The best part: all three of my girls said tonight’s dinner was better than Chick-fil-A. Way better. Everyone had seconds, and I still have enough to send with my youngest tomorrow, so she will not feel left out.

Recreating Chick-fil-A at home was easier, and more satisfying than I expected. In 20 minutes, I went from doubting my ability to create a healthy substitute, to showing my kids that Chick-fil-A might taste good, but we can do better.

Turning doubt in opportunity. That, in a nutshell, is what this crazy healthy life is all about.

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Beating the Weight Loss Blues

The new year is here, and a lot of people are making resolutions to lose weight in 2013.

As a former yo-yo dieter, I understand the sentiments behind these resolutions. I remember days when it seemed like I might never get back to my ideal weight, after ballooning to 194 pounds with my second pregnancy in 2005 (that’s a lot on my 5’8″ frame!). I knew exactly what I had to do to get back in shape–eat healthy food, sleep well, and practice yoga daily–but it still felt out of reach. I was too tired, too discouraged, and too busy to give it the attention it required.

After several months of resisting the process, I eventually got back on track in the summer of 2006 (a year after my second daughter was born). My weight has been easier to manage ever since, even through my third pregnancy in 2007. It feels good, to be back in control.

But I’ll never forget how I struggled in 2006. It makes me wish that I had known then, what I know now, about weight control. If my 41-year old healthy self of today, could talk to my 35-year old overweight self back then, here’s what I would tell her:

1) Let go of the story. It’s human nature to create stories about what we can and can’t do, and then repeat them over, and over again. What’s your story about weight loss? Write it down, and ask yourself which parts are true, and which are false. How could you change the story to support your goals? The Little Engine That Could had it right…if you believe you can, it’s easier to climb the hill.

2) Eat real food. If you want to lose weight, you need to consume nutrient-dense fuel. Whole foods contain the greatest ratio of nutrients to calories, so they need to be at least 80% of your diet. It’s the only way to create sustainable energy for exercise, and the rest of your day. Nutrient-dense foods also support hormonal balance, and boost immunity. You wouldn’t fuel your car with questionable gasoline, so why fuel your weight loss with fake foods?

3) Make exercise an everyday thing. Start small, and give yourself several months to create a sustainable exercise routine. Find two or three simple exercises that give you the results you want (flatter abs, stronger legs, greater flexibility, etc.), and practice them for at least ten minutes every day, for at least a month. These short workouts create a foundation for a sustainable program, so make sure you are strong in your commitment, before you build on it. After a month of consistent daily exercise, it will be easier to add variety and endurance to your workout plan.

4) Trust your struggles…they will someday be your greatest source of pride. When you think back to your greatest accomplishments in life, were any of them easily earned? Why would you expect weight loss to be any different? Be sure of what you hope for, push yourself to try new things, and be grateful for the opportunity to grow stronger with every barrier you dissolve.

This is what I wish I had known back then, in the midst of my fight to reclaim my figure and my health. What insights, and resolutions, have helped you best manage your weight over the years?

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Resolve To Let Go

January is the busiest month of the year in the yoga business. My clients are rejuvenated after holiday vacations, and highly focused on new year’s resolutions to lose weight, get in shape, and eat healthier food.

I love the enthusiasm, but I try to remind everyone that resolutions are rarely enough to create sustainable change in our lives. If we hope to stick with our commitments for 2013, we must resolve to be healthier, but also commit to practice new habits, and cultivate non-attachment to experiences and outcomes.

Most of us already understand the practice part, and are adept at setting goals. We want to get back in shape, so we commit to work out every day. We want to lose weight, so we swear off processed foods and refined sugars. It’s easy to measure: either you did it, or you didn’t.

Learning to let go of attachments is a totally different animal.

What exactly are attachments? They are stories we tell ourselves about our experiences, that keep us stuck in non-productive thoughts and behaviors. We think they have power over us, but they really don’t.

From the moment we are born, we form attachments to people and experiences. We associate good or bad with everything that happens in our lives, and make repetitive choices, based on these beliefs. For example, as adults, we think chocolate chip cookies are a reward, because when we were kids, Mom rewarded us for good behavior with a homemade Tollhouse. It can be difficult to separate the cookie from the feeling of being nurtured by a parent…but it’s easier when we realize that it’s founded more in interpretation, than in truth.

The same is true for exercise. Many of us struggle to change our routines (or lack thereof), because we are attached to the way we have always done things. When we try to learn a new exercise (running, yoga, etc.), we face resistance, and our attachments lead us to think that our previous strategies must have been better. The potential to better ourselves is often outweighed by the potential for failure, or simply the desire to stay home and catch up on our TV shows.

The sneaky thing about attachments, is that they often feel right, but are usually wrong. This is why it is so important to learn to let them go. They tell us that we can’t resist a piece of cake, or a glass of wine, but is that really true? Are we so weak that we can’t say no to habits that ultimately make us unhappy? We think that losing weight is the secret to happiness, but doesn’t real joy come in knowing that we are nourishing our bodies with exercise and healthy food?

Resolutions are the first step in learning to let go and live well, but they are prone to fade away, if we are not also practicing self-study and self-discipline. If you want to make the most of your new year’s resolutions, acknowledge your attachments, and learn to let them go. When we empty ourselves of attachment, we create more space for happiness and good health.

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All I Wanted For Christmas

I’ll never forget the night that I finally accepted that I had to change my mind, and my habits, if I hoped to live my life in good health.

It was Christmas Eve 1998. My husband and I were alone in the waiting room at the hematologist’s office (which happened to be inside a cancer center). We had been married for 18 months, and in that time, I had lost my mother to ovarian cancer, and I had been seriously injured in a car crash.

My bones and organs had healed in the months since the crash, and I looked “normal”, but I didn’t feel like myself. At my check-up in November, my internist discovered abnormalities with both my white, and red, blood cells. He didn’t know what caused it, and thought it best to wait a few weeks, and repeat the test.

December arrived, and I was tested again. My levels were still skewed, so I went to a hematologist for more testing.

By the third week in December, I was really anxious for a diagnosis, so the doctor agreed to work us in on Christmas Eve at 4:30 PM. My new hubby left work early to join me at the appointment. We sat in silence in the lobby, as we waited to be called back, to hear the results of the third round of blood tests.

The waiting made me feel powerless and desperate. Did I have leukemia–the kind my mother had battled in her thirties? Had I contracted HIV from the blood transfusions I received after the car crash? What kind of life would I have with my new husband, if I was not in good health?

All I wanted for Christmas was to be healthy.

The nurse finally appeared, and ushered us back to the office. The news was surprising, but good: my blood levels had returned to normal. Whatever the problem was, it had resolved itself on its own, and I was going to be fine.

It was the best Christmas gift ever, but the experience left me feeling vulnerable. At 27 years old, my health had been seriously threatened not once, but twice in the same year. I never wanted to feel that way again.

It was time to make getting healthy a top priority. No more procrastinating…I needed to let go of the way I had always done things, so that I could finally have the life I desired. It wasn’t easy (it actually felt a lot like pushing a boulder up a hill) but I knew it was the best way to stay out of the doctor’s office.

Recognizing and releasing my attachments–to caffeine, junk food, and convenience–was the first, and most powerful step in getting healthy. In 1999, I resolved to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, practice yoga, and stop eating and drinking things that weren’t really food.

It was few months before I noticed results, but over time I became stronger and happier than ever before. Releasing attachments fueled more changes in the years that followed, and I discovered that there is freedom in getting healthy. And nothing feels better than that.

This is just one of many poignant stories from my 20 year journey to sustainable wellness. I will share more insights from my adventures in future posts, so please follow along, and let me know how I can best help you find a crazy healthy life of your own.

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Your Strongest Core, In 10 Minutes A Day

Summer’s right around the corner…which means that soon we will all be bearing a lot more skin. I don’t know about you, but I ‘m always more motivated to work on my core, when bathing suit season is drawing near. Especially after having three kids in three years.

It was January 2011, and I was six months away from turning 40. The workouts I had been doing–a combination of running, walking, and the elliptical, with a little yoga mixed in–were not giving me the results I desired. My arms and legs were strong, but my core was weak. I decided it was time to reclaim my abs, so I would feel my absolute best by the time the big 4-0 rolled around.

My plan was simple… a 10 minute ab routine every day, no matter what. I refused to go to bed at night until it was done. I committed to do 100 bicycles, 100 sit ups, and a planque routine that consisted of 6 poses, held for 20 breaths each. Whenever you do core work, you have to do back work as well, so I would also strengthen my back with locust pose, held for 20 breaths, 3 times, each day.

It was not easy at first! I gave myself grace the first few weeks, when I realized I could not do complete sets without stopping. For example, I allowed myself to do four sets of twenty sit-ups at first, and eventually worked my way up to 100 in a row. When I was feeling really motivated, I would do the entire ab routine twice a day–once in the morning and once in the afternoon.

It takes about 6 weeks to start seeing results, but trust the struggle. Good things come to those who trust the struggle, and do whatever it takes.

Planques:

There are three planque exercises that are really effective. Knee-to-nose, knee-to-elbow, and knee to opposite elbow. Hold each for 20 breaths (or two sets of ten breaths each), and make sure you do them on both sides of your body.

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Photos: http://www.shapemagazine.com

Sit-ups:

Practice 100 sit-ups every day. Start with five sets of 20 continuous sit-ups, and eventually you will be able to do 100 in a row.

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Photo: http://www.womenfitness.net

Bicycles:

Same as above, 100 bicycles, allowing for multiple sets at first to get the job done.

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Photo: http://www.blairsburgmacfit.blogspot.com

Locust:

Hold this pose for 20 breaths each, for three sets. You can vary the pose by reaching arms forward, or out to the sides instead of back.

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Photo: Marty Sconduto for http://www.yogajournal.com