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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Stretch of the Month: Restorative Chest Opener

December's Restorative Chest Opener is a helpful pose to counter the stress and anxiety of the holiday season. Many of us immediately take stress into the neck, shoulders, and upper back. This pose will open your thoracic spine (the area that is so often rounded from activities like working at your computer or sitting on the train), release tightness in your trapezius muscles (muscles of the upper back & neck), and relax the entire body. Try it at the very end of your workout or to calm the mind & body before bed.
In order to do this you will need either two yoga blocks or two blankets/large towels. If you are using blankets or towels, you will need to roll them so that one is about 6" thick and the other is about 10" thick.

-Sit down on your yoga mat or any comfortable, warm place on the floor. Position two blocks or rolled up blankets behind you. The first should be placed at a medium height about 6 inches behind you. The second should be placed at a taller height about 6 inches beyond the first block.
-Lean back and use your hands to position the first block across your shoulder blades.
-Continue to lean back and use your hands to position the second block underneath your head. Your head should be slightly higher than your shoulders.
-Both blocks should be in a stable and comfortable position, so that you can release your body weight and not feel like you are straining anywhere to be in this pose.
-Externally rotate your arms so that they are resting on the floor by your sides with the palms facing up to the ceiling.
-Lengthen your legs straight on the mat. Make sure the inner thighs are rotating down toward the floor so that your legs are not externally rotating.
-Let your eyes close, focus on your breathe, and let your body relax. Rest in this position for about 2 minutes.
-To come out of the pose make sure to bring your chin in towards your chest, and use your hands to protect the back of the neck. Take your time and be gentle with yourself as you release the pose.

Modifications: "What if..."

"I don't feel like I can release my body weight into the blocks"...Make sure the blocks are not tipping on their edges. They need to be flat on the floor and also on the flat surface of your shoulder blades and head.

"My low back feels arched and my neck is cramped"...Your first block is not in the right position on your back, check to make sure it is under the shoulder blades.

"This feels like too much for me"...Lower the level of your blocks or roll your blankets less thick.

After this pose you should feel more calm, less anxious, and open through the shoulders, chest, mid & upper back. It's a great restorative position after you've spent the day holiday shopping or been with your relatives. In the Restorative Chest Opener you can also take time, as your heart is opening up to the sky, to think of the things you are thankful for and welcome new things into your life for the new year.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving: Tips for a Healthy Turkey Day...

It's fairly safe to assume that this Thursday afternoon you won't be heading to the gym for a set of post-turkey squat thrusts. So plan ahead and get your hardcore exercise done in the morning. Here are some ideas of how to fit that workout in...

-The Turkey Trot! Run/Walk/Jog 5 miles in Prospect Park and you'll definitely have earned that slice of pumpkin pie. You can sign up the day of and find more info at (find direct link at right)
Don't live in Brooklyn?...There's probably a Turkey Trot in your area, or you could start your own!

-Too busy cooking? You can still get your body moving! When you put a dish in the oven, do one of the these no-equipment-necessary exercises until you need to prep the next dish.
Choose from...
*Push ups
*Basic Crunches
*Standing Squats/Lunges
*Jumping Jacks
*Mountain Climbers (High plank position, hop alternating knees in to the chest like you are jogging up a mountain).
Make sure to include a warm up (like fast paced walking, marching in place, etc.) and a cool down with some light stretching.
Put on some fun dance music and boogie down while you stir and chop (especially fun when kid chefs are involved).

-If dropping down for 20 push ups in the middle of your relatives living room isn't your style, try to get them interested and involved. You could...
*Organize a family football, soccer, or capture the flag game
*Play personal trainer: Challenge your brother to a plank competition or race your niece up the stairs 10 times
*Catch up with family gossip during a brisk walk outdoors
*Instead of the post-meal group nap, implement the post-meal family dance party

-Don't skimp on breakfast! If you're famished when your celebration begins, your blood sugar will be so low that you'll be snacking on the appetizers (usually higher in fat and calories: nuts, cheese, etc.) instead of saving room for the stuffing, turkey, and pies!
-Remember that you are not obligated to stuff yourself. Try all of your favorite dishes by taking a small amount of each. If you are still hungry you can always get more of your favorites for seconds or set aside a special plate for your leftovers.
-Don't feel forced to eat foods that aren't appealing to you. You can politely decline to taste Aunt Edna's pickled brussel sprouts. Only you are in charge of what goes in your body.
-Go easy on the alcohol. Excess calories from alcohol turn into fat, increasing triglyceride levels in your blood (and that's not something to be so thankful for).

Take time to do some THANKS and some GIVING.
-Make a list of all the things you are thankful for. Even if it feels like you have nothing, try to think of the basics: a warm meal, a supportive family, etc., and your spirits will start to lift.
-Giving can be as simple as telling someone that you are thankful to have them in your life. There are still many food/toy drives continuing throughout the holiday's. City Harvest will pick up holiday food donations through mid-January. (find direct link at right)

Feel free to leave comments or send me an email to tell me how staying healthy during Thanksgiving went for you. Enjoy and have fun!


Monday, November 17, 2008

The Stretch of the Month: Balanced Warrior

November's Stretch of the Month challenges your balance and builds your strength so you become a Balanced Warrior! This pose will improve your posture and help you cultivate energy into your core center. You will strengthen your abdominals, legs, shoulders, back, and stretch the hamstrings. This is a strenuous pose, so make sure you do an adequate warm up before trying it out. Afterwards you should feel strong, lengthened, and have renewed energy!

-Stand in a neutral position. Slightly bend your knees and send your arms up by your ears. Engage your abdominals by drawing your navel in towards your spine.
-Shift weight into your right foot and draw the left knee in toward the chest. Hinge at the hips to slightly tip the upper body forward as your left leg extends back behind you off the floor. Try to straighten the legs simultaneously.
-Your arms are still by your ears with your body parallel to the floor, creating a T position with the entire body (you are balancing on your right leg). The left leg should be extended back directly in line with the pelvis.
-To maintain an internal rotation of the left leg make sure the left inner thigh is reaching up to the ceiling, the foot is flexed like you're standing against the wall behind you, and the toes are directed down to the floor.
-Check that your hips are squared off (the left side of the pelvis might need to drop down as the right side lifts up). In order to keep your right knee from hyper-extending you might also keep a slight bend in the right knee.
-Make sure your shoulder blades are sliding down the back away from your ears and that the back of the neck is lengthened.
-Balance here for 5 deep breaths and gently release. Now try it on the other side!

Modifications: "What If..."

"I can't balance in this position" -Place the back of a chair in front of you to hold with both hands as you pitch forward.

"I need more of a challenge" -Try different arm positions like 1) arms out in a T position like you're flying 2) hands in a prayer position at your chest 3) with a spinal twist, left arm down to ground & right arm reaching up to the ceiling.

"I have pain in my back" -Make sure your lumbar spine is lengthening. Slightly move your tailbone in toward your pubic bone and re-engage through the abdominals by pulliing the navel in towards the spine.

There are several variations of Warrior poses. All of them will energize you, promote balance and good posture. Make sure you're practicing the variation that's most appropriate for you with proper form by stopping by my Stretch class!

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Stretch of the Month: The Prayer Triangle

October's Stretch of the Month, The Prayer Triangle, truly stretches all the muscles from your fingertips to your toes.  You'll feel the benefits of this pose in your hamstrings, back muscles, hips, chest, shoulders, and wrists.  In this stretch you will improve your posture, sense of balance, strengthen your legs, and improve digestion.  Try the arm and leg positions separately before combining the movements for the final pose.  Make sure you've had a thorough warm-up before trying this pose.

  • Start standing in a neutral position and step the right foot about 3-4 feet behind the left foot.  Slide the right heel slightly in and the right toes out so that the foot is at a 45 degree angle.  
  • Square off the hips so that they are both facing straight forward by slightly moving the left hip crease back and moving the right hip forward.  Engage the muscles of your quadriceps and hug the thighs together.  Press the outer edge of the right foot and the mound of the left big toe into the floor.
  • Bring your arms out to your sides and start to internally rotate so that your thumbs point towards the floor.  Keep rotating your arms in that direction, bend at the elbows and reach your palms together behind your back.  Your fingertips should be pointed towards your head with the pinkie finger side of your hands against your back.  This should look like a prayer position behind your back.  Use this arm position to open across the chest, without letting the front ribs splay open.
  • On an inhalation lengthen your spine and lift your chest up to the ceiling.  Exhale and crease at the hips, reaching the chest forward and the tailbone back.
  • Make sure that your hips remain even, legs strong, and feet pressing down into the floor.
  • You can stay here or fold your front body all the way over your front leg.  Stay for 5 deep breaths.  On an inhalation lengthen the chest to come all the way up to standing.  Try it on the other side.

Modifications: "What if...?"
  • " hands won't make a prayer position behind my back" Hold on to opposite elbows behind the back instead of the prayer position.
  • " back is rounding when I fold over"  Stand at an arms length distance from a wall.  Follow the steps for the leg position, but keep both palms on the wall when you crease at the hips so that you can maintain a flat back.  Or release the arms down to blocks on either side of the front foot.
  • " back heel comes off the floor"  Step the back heel on a folded up mat, or step the heel against a wall to keep it stable.
The Prayer Triangle is a very challenging stretch.  Be sure to respect where your body is at with it.  Take modifications until you can keep proper alignment in the final pose.  In any stage of the stretch you will gain all of the great benefits.  And remember to keeping breathing into your tight areas!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Energizing CORE Exercises

Tired of the traditional abdominal crunch?  Try these advanced energizing exercises that target your deep abdominal muscles and also strengthen & stretch your entire body.  Remember to focus on your breath throughout the movements and warm up with a moderate walk or simple stretches like cat/cow (from all 4's arching and curving the spine) before you start.

Spinal AB Twist: Lie on your back with your knees in toward your chest, arms out to your sides in a T position.  Draw the legs in & together, inhale and gently take the knees over to the right, hovering the legs above the ground.  Remember to keep the left shoulder down on the ground to get a stretch across the chest.  Exhale and engage the abdominals to bring the legs back to center.  Follow your breath and alternate left and right sides 6 times.
  • For more of a challenge try the same exercise with straight legs.

Boat Balance:
Starting from a seated position, place your hands on the back of the thighs and bring your knees in to your chest so that your toes come off the floor.  Keep your back straight while you hinge back from the hips.  Move the ankles in line with the knees so that the legs form a 90-degree angle.  Take your arms to the outside of the legs with your fingers reaching forward energetically.  Continue to reach your chest up to the sky and engage your lower abdominals to hollow out the low belly.  Balance like this for 6 deep breaths.
  • Extend the legs straight so that the body forms a V shape to make this exercise more challenging.

Downward Dog & Knee Tuck:
Begin in an all 4's position on your hands and knees.  Tuck your toes and lift your hips up to the ceiling to form an upside down triangle position.  Inhale and lift the right leg up to the ceiling.  Exhale to hug the right knee in to the chest, slightly lower your hips and bring your shoulders directly over your wrists (into a high plank position).  Inhale back to the down dog with the right leg extending up to the ceiling.  Exhale back to a high plank, this time with the right knee moving to the outside of the right elbow.  Repeat this movement again with the right knee moving to the left elbow.  Do this entire sequence with the left leg.
  • Hold for 3 full breaths each time the knee is in to the chest/elbow to make this more challenging.

Side Plank:
Start from a high plank position.  Shift your weight to the left hand making sure that the left hand is directly under the left shoulder.  Move onto the outside edge of the left foot and try to stack the right foot on top of the left.  Draw the navel in toward the spine and pull the left side of your waist up to the ceiling.  Reach your right hand up to the ceiling.  Hold here for 3 breaths and repeat on the other side.
  • Add a hip dip to make this move more challenging.  Stay in your side plank and let the bottom hip lower to the ground, then use the abdominals to lift the hips back up to side plank position.  Try 10 hip dips on each side.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Stretch of the Month: The IT Band Down Dog

September's Stretch of the Month, the IT Band Down Dog, lengthens & strengthens the entire body! You gain all the benefits of a regular Down Dog like relieving stress & headaches, reducing back pain, and improving digestion, with additional emphasis on stretching the Iliotibial Band (IT Band). The IT Band extends from the outside of the pelvis, over the hip, and inserts below the knee.  Stretching the IT Band can relieve pain from tightness on the outside of the leg and reduce lateral knee & hip injuries.  Make sure you've warmed up sufficiently before trying it out. 
  • Start on all 4's, tuck the toes and lift your hips up to the ceiling so that you create an upside down triangle position (regular Downward Facing Dog). Stay here for 3 deep breaths.
  • Make sure that your hands are pressed firmly into the floor and your arms are rotating so that the inner creases of your elbows are hugging in by your ears.  The shoulder blades should slide down the back toward the hips, and your sits bones should lengthen up to the ceiling.  Send your heels down to the floor.
  • Bend your right knee to your chest and step the foot underneath the left armpit so that the leg is equidistant between the left hand and the left foot, with the outside edge of the right foot in contact with the floor.  Keep the shoulders and hips squared off as you do this.  Ground the palms and feet back into the mat, draw the right hip back in space so that it is in the same plane as the left hip, and resend both sits bones up to the ceiling.
  • Stay here for 5 deep breaths and repeat to the other side.
Modifications: What if?...
  • " shoulders and back are too tight to do the down dog comfortably" Place your hands on blocks or an elevated surface. 
  • "...I can't feel the IT band stretch" Play with the position of the crossed leg, take it up a little bit closer to your hands or down closer to your opposite leg.  Then make sure to draw the hip back so that your heel drags in closer to your body.
The ITBand Down Dog is especially helpful for runners, so try it after your jog around the park!  Check out the schedule to the right to practice it in Stretch Class all month!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Energizing A.M. Nutrition

Breakfast: How to Break the Fast

Most people start the day on an empty stomach and then quickly grab something (which usually contains caffeine, dairy, and/or sugar) to sustain energy and avoid a mid-morning slump.  This creates a roller coaster effect of high and low energy levels throughout the day.  Try these nutrition suggestions to establish & maintain a high level of energy from the a.m. to the p.m.!

1) LEMON WATER: drink a glass of warm water with the juice of 1/2 a lemon upon waking.  The properties in lemons help to...
  • alkalize the body, cleanse the skin, and soothe the digestive system
  • stimulate the liver & kidneys
  • provide calcium, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin C
  • relieve asthma
*if lemons aren't appealing to you try the same thing with lime.  A different taste with the same benefits!

2) HEARTY BREAKFAST: plan a well-sized morning meal that includes a portion of carbohydrate and protein (wait 1/2 hour after drinking your lemon water to eat). 
  • eating healthy calories in the beginning of the day maximizes the amount of calories you burn throughout the day and reduces mid-meal cravings
  • eat foods in their purest form, the best health benefits come from foods that are the least processed 
  • try these breakfast suggestions and note how you feel a) immediately after eating, b) 2 hours after the meal, and c) how long it takes for you to actually feel hungry again...
-poached eggs & roasted potatoes
-cooked oats sprinkled with crushed almonds
-plain yogurt with fresh fruit
-whole grain toast with peanut butter & banana
-cooked quinoa with ground flax seed
*quinoa is a must-add to your diet: it is the only grain that is a complete protein (contains all 9 essential amino acids)!!!

3) YERBA MATE: A species of holly, this drink is traditionally prepared by steeping dried leaves in water, and sipped out of a gourd!  It does contain stimulants such as caffeine and xanthines, but also has healthy elements like potassium, magnesium, and manganese.  The flavor is similar to green tea and can be slightly bitter.  Mate's beneficial physiological side effects are similar to coffee & tea, with less severe negative side effects.  Yerba Mate is known to...

  • increase mental alertness & focus
  • have less jolt than coffee on the central nervous system
  • refrain from producing 'jitters' or heart palpitations
  • enhance energy without affecting ability to fall asleep
*you can purchase Yerba Mate in tea bags or loose leaves from your natural health food store.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

*****New Workshop*****

in Brooklyn's Prospect Park!

flexABility is my new workshop designed to stretch your muscles, strengthen your core, and maximize your energy throughout the day!  Learn a morning exercise routine to wake up your body, as well as nutrition, breathing & meditation techniques to sustain a high energy level.  More than just a great's a fresh start with new healthy habits and tools you will use long after the session is over.

Starts Wednesday August 27th for 4 weeks! (8/27, 9/3, 9/10, 9/17)

We'll meet @ 6:55-7:45am, 9th street & Prospect Park West

Interested? Sign up by contacting the Park Slope Fitness Collective 718-499-1849

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Stretch of the Month: The Triangle Reach

This month's highlighted stretch, The Triangle Reach, is amazing because it simultaneously stretches and strengthens the muscles in your thighs, knees, ankles, abdominal and back muscles!  The Triangle Reach also stimulates the abdominal organs.  Try it after you have warmed up sufficiently as an invigorating and energizing pose.

  • Stand up tall with your legs together and the feet parallel. 
  • Step the left leg back about 3ft and turn in the left heel so the toes are angled slightly to the left.  Make sure you can draw an imaginary line from the right heel to the center of the left arch to be in proper alignment.
  • Spiral your hips and shoulders open to the left and extend your arms up with the biceps hugging by the ears and the palms facing towards each other.
  • Inhale lengthen the spine and move your hips to the left.  As you exhale reach the body to the right, keeping your legs grounded and engaged.  Ideally, your torso is parallel to the floor and your arms are reaching beyond your head.
  • Cultivate strength from your core muscles.  Feel your tailbone moving slightly forward, navel drawing in towards the spine, lower front ribs shifting in toward the back, and the back of your neck in line with the spine. 
  • Grow in this pose for 5 deep breaths, inhale to bring the body up and repeat to the other side.
Modifications: What if ?...
  • "...I can't keep my back straight" Try the pose with the entire back body against a wall.
  • "...It's too difficult to keep my arms by my ears" Take the right arm down the right leg (or on a block) and the left arm extended up to the ceiling, or take both hands to the hips. 
The Triangle Reach will give you extra energy for all your summer activities! 
See the class schedule at the right to try this pose in Stretch class all month!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Contrology: What is that?

Contrology? It sounds like a cultish secret science that your boss might practice or a cosmic theory of the meaning of life, but it's actually a form of exercise that you've probably practiced at some point... 

Contrology is the term that Joseph H. Pilates called his work throughout its inception. Apparently he could've used some help in the advertising arena because although he used the term in his two books, Your Health (1934) and Return to Life Through Contrology (1945), the name never stuck and his techniques are now generally referred to as plain old Pilates.

Pilates, oops...I mean Contrology, is structured around six body elements: concentration, control, physical centering, flowing movement, precision and breathing.  These elements are used to improve strength & stability with exercises that focus on your core muscles.  Benefits of concentrating on the "powerhouse" (as the core is often referred to in Pilates), include but are not limited to: improvements in posture, better balance & coordination, strong abdominal & back muscles, strong pelvic & shoulder stabilizers, evenly developed muscles, reduced back pain, decreased risk of injury, heightened mind-body connection, and overall improved athletic performance.

I find Mr. Pilates interesting because he developed his technique out of his own physical disability.  Sick as a child, he studied all kinds of sports & health training to improve his physique.  He was imprisoned in an internment camp during WWI and used his time training the other internees and hospital patients in rehabilitation. Have you ever wondered why his exercise machines-the Reformer, the Trapeze table, and the Wunda chair-look like torture devices? It was during this time that he developed them, using springs attached to cots etc., to create the appropriate positions and resistance level for his clients.  

Many Pilates exercises very closely resemble yoga exercises.  Joseph H. Pilates didn't write about yoga as an influence for his work and never focused on the spiritual aspect of the body-mind connection.  It is interesting to note however, that his whole "powerhouse" idea directly relates to many Eastern energy practices where life force is described as prana, chi, or ki.

I incorporate Pilates style exercises into my clients' sessions, and encourage it as a supplement to your other fitness routines.

Here's a Pilates exercise to try:

  • Lie prone (on your belly) on a mat.  Lengthen your legs into the mat and draw your navel up to your spine.  Extend your arms above your head without lifting up the shoulders.
  • Exhale and lift your arms and legs to hover over the mat.  Keep the back of your neck lengthened and your pelvis neutral.
  • Swim by alternating opposite arm and leg.  Continue breathing in for 5 beats and out for 5 beats. 
  • Lower arms and legs back to mat.

*Information adapted from Pilates Mat Training by Shirley Archer

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Lazy Sunday Workout...

Today is the first day my blog is up and running, and ironically, I'm stuck in my apartment.  These unpredictable New York summer thunderstorms really make it challenging to plan an outdoor workout!  It's officially a lazy's raining, I have a long to-do list, and the chances of exercising are more than bleak.  I decide to tackle some of the to-do's and worry about the exercise later.  On a trip out to do laundry I notice the sun trying to peek through the grey sky. I'm still feeling sluggish and more inclined to watch a movie, but I know this will be my one chance to work out today.  For extra motivation I ask my sister if she wants to take a walk in the park with me.  We bring weights and resistance bands and find a flat grassy area to settle.  I create a low impact routine for us and just as we finish stretching, BOOM!, more thunder approaches. Ha! We beat the next storm and got our outdoor workout in too. 

Here's The Lazy Sunday Workout...

Warm up with Walking & Yoga Sun Salutation

5-10lb weights, repeat 2 times:
  • Squat to Overhead Press, 15 times
  • Alternating Lunge with Lateral Arm Raise, 12 times
  • Heel lift with Bicep Curl, 15 times
  • Supine Chest Fly, 15 times
  • Tricep Skull Crushers, 15 times
  • Single Arm Rows from All 4's position, 15 times
Core Strengthening 
  • Basic Crunches, 20 times
  • Bicycle Crunches, 20 times
  • Forearm Plank, hold 60 seconds
  • High Plank, hold 30 seconds
Cool Down with Stretching & Walking

So....if your exercise plans go astray don't stress, just be creative and spontaneous and you'll be able to fit it in. And grab a buddy, it's so much more fun and inspirational to workout with a friend!