20 March 2012

At-home Yoga 101

Yoga can be confusing to start.  There are many forms of yoga, over 100 yoga poses and even different names for the same posture.  Years ago, I ventured into yoga with “the hundred”, “v-sit” and “scissor kicks” from a Windsor Pilates video.  My practice deepened in recent years with an instructor-lead, vinyasa class at our Community Rec Center.   A video or instructor is the best way to start and learn proper technique, but after a while videos can get stale.  So for those who want creative freedom or to supplement a class and practice at home, I share some basic rules I've observed.

Find a quiet space with room to lunge and move.  I thought I could run through a series of poses even if the kids might run through the room.  It doesn’t work.  Once they saw me on the floor, class was over.  Did my four and five-year old want to join me?  Yes, if that meant playing airplane (which actually is a pose called Falcon in partner yoga) or climbing on my back during plank. Take the time to focus on your movements.  One of the benefits of yoga is relaxation and stress relief.

Build a sequence of asanas that can easily lead into one another, and incorporate counter poses to work the other side.  Yoga Journal’s web site has a tool for building your own sequence (unfortunately missing reverse warrior and a few others).  These card decks received good ratings on Amazon: The Yoga Deck for Kindle and Yoga: the Poetry of the Body by Rodney Lee .

A popular asana for arms and abs is SunSalutation.  Clickhere for a few more combinations including the warrior sequence.  I thought this sequence from class had a nice flow: warrior II - right angle pose - warrior II - reverse warrior - warrior II - triangle. 

Don't overextend, listen to your body.  There are modified positions you can always use to adapt a pose if you have a limitation.  For example, drop a knee down for side plank, reach for your ankle if you can't touch the floor, etc.  A weekend of pulling weeds or painting changes what your body may be capable of and you should listen to your body.
5 breaths.  That’s about how long you should hold each pose.  Connecting your moves with breathing is an important element of yoga; inhale to open and start a new pose, exhale to exit a posture, fold, twist or relax.  Breathing not only counts how long to stay in posture, but it also opens energy throughout the body and enhances a mindful practice.

Pace your routine.  As for any exercise, warm-up and cool down are important to prevent injury and help you reach peak performance.   Start with gentle stretching, moving between poses to warm up your muscles.  Deepen stretches with each repeat.  If a pose seems simple, deepen it – stretch a little farther, sink a little lower, hold a little longer. 

After your asanas, cool down with forward bends and twists which help relieve tension in the back/chest /shoulders, and improve posture, flexibility, mobility and digestion.  Some restorative poses I like to end a session with are Child’s pose , Supine spinal twist, and Corpse pose.

15 March 2012

Whole Foods – what they are, why they are important and tips for eating more!

You intuitively know which foods are healthy, and more importantly which aren’t.  You do.  But we are often seduced by convenience, and make so many daily decisions that we don’t want to analyze food labels while rushing through the grocery aisles.  

We wrote this post to bring your attention to whole foods because so many foods eaten today that are pre-packaged or from fast food restaurants are processed to lengthen shelf life and as a consequence have been chemically altered, nutritionally drained and excessively flavored with empty calories.

Today, 90% of America’s food budget is spent on processed food with added ingredients that have been linked to childhood obesity, hyperactivity, asthma and degenerative diseases (type 2 diabetes, heart disease and cancer to name a few).  It may not be realistic for you to feed your family a strictly whole-food diet, but you can at least start making informed choices and small changes to shift this % in a healthier direction. 
Let’s start with identifying what whole foods are, and which are the worst processed that you should avoid:

What are whole foods?  Whole foods are unprocessed, natural foods.  Or maybe more easily defined by what it is NOT.  It is food without additives (saturated fat, sugar or sodium), preservatives (nitrates), coloring, hormones or antibiotics.  A simple way to think of them is foods that actually look like the source they came from and are a single ingredient.  For example, whole cranberries vs. the canned gelatin sauce complete with ringed design.  

Note: Healthy foods can come in a box or jar, just check the food label for a  list of ingredients (try for fewer than 5, and those which you can pronounce).
What foods should you avoid or limit?   Canned soup, potato chips and hot dogs are among the not-so-obvious worst foods that contain loads of sodium, saturated fat and artificial preservatives. While if you have kids it’s not easy to avoid chicken nuggets and french fries, do your best to control the frequency that you order them from fast food.  Salt is the fourth of 15+ ingredients in McDonald’s nuggets, and they are cooked in oil with TBHQ (a preservative made with butane).

Three general rules to make it easier.
1.       Plan your meals.  Take time to think through what you will eat for the week so you have healthy foods in stock, and a controlled list of items to buy.
2.       Eat before you shop to reduce hunger temptations and impulse purchases.
3.       Shop the perimeter where the fresh produce and whole foods are stocked.

Four tips to make your produce last longer:
1.  Store most foods in the refrigerator to slow the respiration process (with a few exceptions including winter squash, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, bananas and garlic.)
2.  Separate ethylene-emitting foods and toss spoiled items immediately, because they will spoil surrounding food faster.
3.  Store most foods in perforated plastic bags (air tight seals will age them faster); storing mushrooms in paper bags prevents them from getting slimy.
4.  Keep lettuce and root vegetables dry as moisture encourages rot.

Now that we've covered the fundamentals, happy cooking!

Cooking Light recipes
SouthBeach Diet cookbook
How it all Vegan!   Irresistable recipes foran animal free diet” by Kramer and Bernard
Living Raw Food” by Sarma Melngailis

07 March 2012

A Training Program for Everyone.

I’ve been running since I was age 13.  When I started track in Middle School, I wanted to be a sprinter (I wasn’t), enjoyed running the 800 m, agreed to run the 1-mile, ran the 2-mile under duress, and refused cross country.   

I’ve continued running mid-distance for … well a long time.  And in my opinion, two to three miles is enough for a regular routine.  You break a sweat, breathe hard and work your muscles.  If you run (not jog), you even get the endorphin kick with time left over for a few abdominal and upper body strength training exercises.  With an occasional 5k in the calendar, it's perfect!  But that’s me.  

There has been an explosion in the number of people running 10k, half and full marathons and triathlons.  This trend has been dubbed a marathon mania in the US.  Suffice it to say, there are many training programs out there for beginners and high achievers. 

Here are a four we thought worth mentioning:

As its name implies, the Couch to 5k is for people new to running; it starts out with walking/jogging.  Our #1 piece of advice for someone running their first race is “go out slow – your goal for your first race should be to finish”.
  1. Training with a cause and destination, Team in Training offers programs for a variety of races including running, biking and hiking with a built-in network of coaches and teammates – a great motivational community.
  2. Runner’s World offers 12 different half marathon training programs depending upon your level and/or time goals.  Their site has lots of good information about training programs, gear and races.  Looking for a local race in Ohio?  We recommend searching www.runohio.com.  
  3. For general fitness, P90X (recently trumped by Insanity) requires an investment of time and money, and is designed for those who are serious about sculpting their body.  Be prepared to commit a minimum of an hour every day, for 90 days.  The DVDs cover strength, cardio and flexibility, with an emphasis on strength.  Resistance bands are really the only piece of equipment you’ll need (and space to stretch, lunge and jump), but we found the pull-up bar useful too.  Caution: this program is designed for those who are already reasonably fit.  
Whether you want to get started, get motivated, maintain or take it to the next level - there's a training program for everyone.