Practical Tips for First Timer Yoga Class

Yoga is something that I have truly fallen in love with over the past couple of years.  I think that it has so many benefits – mental, physical, social- that if you have any interest in trying it, I absolutely urge you to go for it!  Below are some practical guidelines so when you take your first class, you feel prepared and stress free.

Hair Choice

I find having a pony tail can be uncomfortable when lying down, so my favorite things to do are a variety of braids.  French braids, pigtail braids, halo braids.  These all evenly distribute the hair so nothing is pulling and when you are on the matt, you dont have a pony tail poking you in the back of your head.  I see some people pracicing with their hair down which I have only been able to manage when my hair was super short with a soft headband.

Here is a great tutorial that I first used for a halo braid which is now my go to hairstyle for yoga and running.

Halo Braid

Clothing Choice

Make sure its something you are comfortable in.  Very often I have worn an outfit that looked very “yoga chic” but then in the middle of class realized it was not going well. Either it was too low cut and I felt exposed, the leggings didn’t stretch right or sat too low or my top was too loose and exposed my stomach during downward dog or inversions.  Whatever you decide to wear, play around at home first. Bend over, twist, stretch. Make sure its something that you are comfortable with so that way you dont have any wardropte malfunctions to distract you. Generally leggings and a fitted tank are my go to choices. Don’t feel pressure to buy expensive brands, anything you have that fits well will do the trick.

Get there Early

Generally, its polite to arrive at a class about 15 minutes early.  If you are brand new, it may be extra helpful to get there ahead of time.  This way you can check in and get settled, which can make the whole experience more relaxing.  Additionally, you can meet the instructor and disclose that you are new and if you have any injuries or concerns.  In my experience, teachers are very welcoming and they can make really helpful suggestions prior to and during class to accomodate your skill level and needs.

Avoid the Competitive Spirit

For some, including myself, the urge to compete with others during a class can be very strong. You may look around at other students nailing a pose or taking it to a full, gravity defying, super flexible expression.  That is their practice. Focus on your own, and you will be better for it.  This is something that I have worked on continously.  By scoping out others, it takes you out of alignement,  your focus is split and you are not paying attention to your body. This can cause you to lose balance, not get the most out of the pose or potentially hurt yourself.

Angry yoga

Something to keep in mind is you dont know everyone elses story. Even in a beginners class, you may have people who have been practicing for years. There may be other teachers observing this instructor.  This could be someone who just wants to brush up on the basics or someone new to yoga but did dance for 15 years.  Everyone is going to be a different level and that isn’t a bad thing. Each student starts somewhere.

Listen to the Instructor

I mean, duh. But really listen.  There are often a lot of funny sounding metaphors that really work  like”knit your ribs”.  Do you best to visualize what they saying and apply it as best you can.  Also be open to their modifiations.  During class you may be working on a pose that has 3 modifications – to make it easier or harder.  Your instructor will likely emphasize which is intended for whom and encourage you to do what feels right for you. Going back to the competative nauture, dont feel pressured to pick the hardest option.  Do what feels right which may be a gentle stretch or bit of a challenge, but should not feel overwhelming.  This way you can start to understand the foundation of a pose, which will make it easier to advance later on, once you master the basics.

Pick the Right Class

If you are going to a studio, a community class or a session at your gym, try and find out what the style is.  There are beginner classes, power classes, heated classes and more.  If your nervous, try a beginner or foundations class to ease into it.  You can usually chat with the instructor or another employee about what to expect and which class would be the right fit for you.  Studios also may have descriptions on their website. Below is a sample from the studio I attend:

Just Go For It!

Yoga is great and I love it! It has enriched so many peoples lives, whether they were looking for a good work out, a way to connect with their body, or wanted to get involved with a vibrant social scene of wonderful people.  I know it can be daunting.  Sometimes beautiful photos of yogis in amazing poses can come off as intimidating rather than inspirational.  But don’t let that stop you!  You owe it to yourself to give it a try and I hope the above tips help you feel more confident venturing into your first class.

 

What was your first yoga class experience?

5 Training Changes I Have Made – Half Marathon

This past summer on a bit of a whim, I signed up for another half marathon.  It had been about 2 years since my first one and I was ready to get back in the saddle.   I went to a conference for work and they really stressed being your best self both professionally and personally. I started reflecting on things that made me happy and decided to just go for it and sign up for another race. I really like having a goal, running itself makes me happy and this pushes me to do it when life might otherwise get in the way. Something that helped me pull the trigger is that the race was literally 5 minutes from my house.  And a wonderful surprise was Eric, my husband, decided to do it with me!  He has run in the past, frequently doing a local 4 on the 4th race (crazy hilly and always super-hot) but this would be his first half marathon.  After the race, I realized some key differences between my training for my last race and this one.


 

Terrain Choices

Last time I did a lot of my short runs either on the road, on the treadmill, or in a local park. I really hated the treadmill, it was just so boring and I never felt like I got a good run out of it. I much preferred getting outside and going on the road. It’s much more stimulating and you can’t beat fresh air.

This time around, I did my weekly runs at a local track. Starting in the summer vs. the winter means I was able to run everything outside which is amazing. I know that running in circles too much may not be the best but it has helped me to run at a much steadier pace.

Using my Nike Plus Tracker/Running app, I could see that previously, I would start and finish really strong but have a very significant dip in my pace for the middle. Or I wouldn’t push myself and have a ton of energy left at the end. I started timing my laps on my phone so I could see if there were any big changes lap to lap and address it right away. I think that running on the track has helped me establish a natural pace that I can now use when I am on a trail or the road.


Scoping out the Race Course

In addition to running on the track, every week I went down to the state park where the race was to get my long runs in. I had a map of the course and ran it from the starting point. It is so valuable to be able to know exactly where the hills are (even though they are minor) in addition to the mile markers. Something that is interesting about this course is it goes through multiple different types of terrain. It starts in the park and you run on dirt paths through campgrounds and picnic areas. Then you have a section of well groomed trail in the woods, which is totally shaded (sweet!). After that you pop out on the roads in Madison for the majority of the middle miles. Being able to check this out and run it consistently has given me the chance to get a feel for the conditions including the wind, sun, elevation and smells (low tide – its real). For my last race, it was in Annapolis so I never got the chance to check it out before race day.


Running Without Headphones

Track photo
Not listening to music gives Eric plenty of time to steal my phone and take random pictures of me.

When I was reading through the rules for the race, headphones are specifically banned so I have been training without them. Which seemed crazy to me at first! How was I going to stay motivated? In Maryland I would listen to music and podcasts on my long runs to help pass the time. I really thought it was going to be a struggle to go without any kind of music. Now that I’m running without them, I think headphones may have been holding me back. Once I got going, I would just putz along to get the mileage in without focusing on my form, pace or how I felt. I had a pretty short stride and was probably running hunched just because I wasn’t paying attention. Now I am really feeling the run. I can check in more easily and if I can dig deeper, I do. If I notice poor form or some strain, I can adjust. I no longer need to be distracted while I run. Obviously after a while, my mind will wander (perhaps writing the outline for a blog post…) but I can snap myself in and out as needed. This has allowed me to keep a more consistent pace but also challenge myself and now I am going much faster. Much of my long runs had an average pace around 12:00 min/mile, some even slower. Now I am consistently in the 10:00’s. I don’t feel like I am training any harder, but rather, I am getting more out of each workout so I am progressing.

 

Having a Buddy

For my first race, Melissa of EatontheRun peer pressured encouraged me to sign up because she was racing. I then got my friend Erica to join as well. Even though there were a bunch of us running together, we all had different paces and locations – Erica was living about 7 hours away from me at the time. So the vast majority of my training was solo.

Having Eric running with me was a big change.  Not only does this help with motivation during the run (we get competitive with each other) but it makes it much easier to stick to our schedule. We plan our evenings around our workouts. Being on the same page Eric and Wendymakes things so much easier so there isn’t any FOMO – we can plan fun things for our rest days together.

Being afraid of missing things did get me in trouble last time. I got lax about following my training schedule in the final couple of weeks and ended up missing a lot of runs. My internship was wrapping up, friends were getting married/graduating and I was trying to prepare for life post internship in the real world. This time, I had Eric to really anchor me into the schedule.
Making a Time Goal

Last time all I wanted to do was finish. I wanted to run the whole thing and didn’t care how long it took. I ended up walking really only around the aid stations because I can’t handle drinking/eating while running. So I was happy with that.

This time, I decided to make a real concrete goal. Having a benchmark makes it easier to determine what a reasonable goal is. So this time, I set out to finish in less than 2 hours and 30 minutes which breaks down to about an 11:30 average pace.

Recap

Well the race went really well. It was a bit chilly and started a bit late but it was a beautiful course and we had nice weather.  We did miss our goal by about 2 minutes, but it was still better than my last one by 15!  I am really happy with how it went, especially because we only trained for 9 weeks and Eric was brand new to this distance.

Post Half

It was a great race and after a little hiatus, we signed up for another one this April! We are already so much faster starting out so I’m expecting some significant PRs in our future.

 

How has your training evolved over time?

 


All of this is based off of my personal experience as I don’t have any formal training to instruct others. If you are working towards a fitness goal, just be mindful of what tactics seem to work and if anything has changed since you started. Being adaptable is a great way to get the most out of you training and in general, your life.

Are you Getting Enough Fruits and Veggies?

A lot of people may think they get enough fruit and veggies over the day, but they may fall short of the recommendations.  To start off, what are the recommendations? In general, the more produce the better, but check these charts for your age and sex to get specific recommendations.

Daily Fruit Needs
Image from http://choosemyplate.gov/
Daily Vegetable Needs
Image from http://choosemyplate.gov/

These recommendations are pretty clear by putting them into “cups” rather than a number of servings.  However, there are 2 exceptions.  When it comes to dried fruit 1/2 a cup counts as a full cup.  The volume is smaller just because they are dehydrated, but they retain their nutrition.  The second difference is with leafy green vegetables.  This includes lettuce, spinach, kale and other salad mixes.  Because they are so light, 2 measured cups equals a cup serving.  Use the below images that I got from PopSugar to help you visualize your actual needs.  It may not be as daunting as  you think,

Fruit ServingFruit Servings 3 Fruit Serving 2

I couldn’t find similar images of vegetables but just grab some measuring cups and measure it out.

If these charts and images make you realize that your intake is on the low side, you are in good company.  The CDC conducted a study and found that on average, only 32.5% of Americans meet their needs for fruit and only 26.3% meet their vegetable needs.  These numbers have actually gotten worse since 2000.  Statistically, the highest intake is found in women, adults over 65, and in those with a college degree.  Surprisingly, fruit intake is very similar across income brackets (vegetable intake is highest in those with salaries above $50,000).  This shows that social factors and education may be more important than income.

But you may ask, why is it important?  Well for your personal health, it is probably the best thing you can do.  Most fruits and vegetables are naturally low in salt, fat, and calorie making it easier to lose weight or stay where you are.  It has also been shown that a diet high in produce can reduce your risk for heart disease, certain cancers, stroke, lower your blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and kidney stones.  They are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, water, and phytonutrients.  All of these are critically important for your body to function properly and at its highest level.

Keep your eyes peeled for a follow up post on how to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into your daily life.

Do you struggle with your produce intake?

How to Stay Hydrated Without Really Trying

Keeping hydrated is something that people talk about a lot during the summer.  Its hot, we sweat and a tall glass of water is incredibly appealing.  But it is just as important in the winter and is frequently overlooked as an important area of well being.  According to a study by the University of New Hampshire, we are prone do dehydration in the winter about the same as in hot weather.  A lot of water is lost simply through breathing and perspiration.  We may think that these losses are low, but we sweat under our layers and when the air is very dry, water evaporates quickly.

Being in cold weather also affects our ability to regulate fluid balance in an attempt to conserve heat.  This means that when we are dehydrated, our body does not release a hormone that triggers thirst in addition to not conserving water in the kidneys, increasing water loss.  Since our body is not automatically correcting, we need to be more conscious about our fluid intake.  Incorporate these strategies the help prevent dehydration which can result in dry mouth, sleepiness, headaches, dry skin, constipation and dizziness.

Keep Water Available

If you don’t have any water, you aren’t going to drink it.  Keep a bottle in your car, on your desk, or by your bed.  This way when you do get thirsty it is nice and easy.  It also serves as a physical reminder that you should have something.  Even casually sipping over the day can result in an improved intake.

Drink with Meals

Always have a glass when you eat.  This may also be a helpful strategy if you are trying to cut calories.  It slows down your eating, helps you feel full sooner and eases digestion.  You need enough fluid in your body to have comfortable bowel movements as too little can lead to constipation. Having a glass with meals also gives you 3 structured opportunities each day to help out your hydration.

Use a straw

They help you drink much faster, leading to a larger volume.  It is common advice to avoid straws when drinking alcohol because of this.  Due to the mindless-ness of the act, it wont feel like a chore and  you can empty a water bottle pretty quickly.  It also makes drinking in the car easier and less prone to spillage.

2015-01-12 14.45.23

Drink Alternative Beverages

In general water is best.  It is certainly better than soda or juice for hydration, but it is not the only option.  Many people are so bored with water the thought of drinking 8 glasses a day is such an imposition.  Unsweetened hot or iced tea is a wonderful alternative as it has frequently been linked to its own health benefits.  They also come in a wide range of flavors.  Pay attention to caffeine intake and drink throughout the day.  You can also infuse water produce or herbs.  Cucumbers, mint, berries and watermelon all make great, refreshing water that are almost calorie free.  Just put your desired flavoring agents in a jug of water overnight and enjoy the next day.

2015-01-12 14.45.28

Don’t forget about Exercise

Anytime you work out, remember you are losing water.  Even light yoga or weight lifting should have you pre and re-hydrating.  Have a glass before you work out and keep a bottle on you during.  Exercise may trigger your thirst so embrace it.  In addition to being healthful, it can also prevent dangerous situations.  Dehydration can cause dizziness, being light headed, and having reduced coordination.  All of these can lead to serious injury if you are active – think dropping  your weight, falling on a treadmill or blowing out a joint due to poor form.

Track It

You never really know how much you drink throughout the day if you don’t pay attention to it.  Physically tracking it, at least initially, can clue you in to whether or not you are meeting your needs.  There are a ton of different methods you can try.  If you track your food intake in a written food journal or online, just add in all of your beverages as well.  If you carry a water bottle with you and refill it during the day, keep a sticky note by you and make a tally mark every time you finish a bottle.  Or you can per-portion all of your water for the day and when its done, you know that you have reached your goal.waterbottle

What do you do to keep hydrated?

Fitness In the Office

So its the new year and you want to jump start your fitness routine.  Maybe you want to join a gym or a studio, or start training for a race or event.  All of those are excellent goals! Sometimes though, our resolutions fizzle and we realize we don’t have actually have the time, money or motivation to dedicate to those kinds of large scale interventions.  If you need alternatives to these big commitments, I have you covered.

Don’t worry that you aren’t doing something big enough.  With the new year everyone wants to go all out.  Just remember, if you can do the small thing all year but can only go gangbusters for a month, slow and steady may win this race.  Here are a bunch of small tricks that can add up to help you get moving in 2015

Look at your commute.

See if you have any places you can make adjustments.  Check out how I built 60 minutes of activity into my daily routine.

Train CollageBe inefficient. 

What? Someone of German decent advocating being wasteful?  The way most of our life is structured is to do the fastest thing.  Drive. Send an email.  Have a video conference instead of a meeting.  We are all about doing the least amount to get the most time/benefit.  This leads us to sit. All. Day. Long.  Analyze your work environment and see where you can make some adjustments.  Try walking over to a colleges office to discuss an issue rather than sending an email.  Offer to walk across the street to get the morning coffee. Round everyone up for a meeting by physically going to each office.This actually makes you more personable as well so 2 birds, one stone.

Plan fitness breaks.

This is actually good for productivity and morale.  Make a schedule, something like every hour get up from your chair and stretch or take a lap for as long as you can.  Obviously office culture dictates whether you can take off for 15 minutes or if more than 3 will get you in trouble.  Even if you take 1 minute every hour is better than nothing and it may be enough to loosen you up.  And think about it; do your coworkers get to leave for a smoke break? If so, think about taking advantage of that time do something positive for your health.  And don’t forget, you can always dance! Play a song or two on your computer or iPod and boogie.  Its fun and you may get an office mate to join in with you.

Dancing 2
Me and some old co-workers during lunch, inspired by the Olympics.
Dancing
And who says you need a partner?

Embrace lunch time.

There is so much that you can do at lunch.  If you have the space, bring a yoga mat or some small weights and stash them in your office.   Then commit 10 or 15 minutes to a light work out.  Basic Pilates, yoga or weight training are all possible at the office.  You can try and listen to a yoga podcast to guide or you go free-form.  You can also try some of these moves:

  • Calf raises – While standing, rise up onto  your tippy toes. Hold for a second or 2 and then come back down to flat feet.
  • Bicep Curls – Use weights or a full water bottle
  • Triceps Extensions
  • Squats – Safety tip: never let your knees go in front of your toes.  Focus on sitting back, not necessarily sitting down.
  • Push ups – Feel free to start on your knees for an easier modification
  • Sit ups
  • Lunges
  • Planks – Hold it as long as you can and gradually work your way up to 30 seconds or a minute
  • Leg extensions – While sitting in your chair, slowly  bring one or both legs up so they are parallel to the floor, then bring down with control

A good flow is to do an exercise 10-15 times in a row, rest and then repeat the series 2 more times.

If you don’t have the space to really spread out, consider doing a couple flights of stairs while you wait for your lunch to microwave or coffee to brew.  You can also walk to a local restaurant to pick up lunch rather than driving.

Own It

Have confidence and just go for it.  You may feel silly at first. Don’t let it limit you.  If you want to make fitness a priority, your attitude can take you a long way.  Sticking out at the office may not be your favorite thing to do, but if you think about it, you would be sticking out for a very positive reason.  It may also encourage your co-workers to follow suit.  I walk to work, take stretching and fitness breaks and talk about my fitness tracker all day long.  Now 2 of my coworkers (30% of the office) have followed suit.  One keeps sneakers in her office to walk during lunch and another just purchased her first FitBit.  If you own your health you wont be silly and you may become a trendsetter.

own it
You can do it!

Use these suggestions as a guide and analyze your work environment to see how you can make healthy changes.

How do you work fitness into your work day?

FitBit: a Bit of an Obsession

Back in December, I decided to treat myself to a gadget.  I had a bit of income from a retail job that I worked while I was RD Job hunting, and I hadn’t done something for myself in a while.  My friend Emily, who works on her feet all day, and I decided to go for it and get ourselves FitBit Zips.  We had heard great things from reviews and friends (*cough* Melissa) and wanted to see how active we really were during the day.  She got pink and I, of course, got lime green.  Well its been a little over 6 months now and I have to say, I’m still excited about it.

Basics:

  • The zip is a pedometer that can hook onto your pants or undergarments
  • It tracks your steps, distance, and calories burned-including calories from basic body functions
  • It syncs with your computer so you can see trends

2014-01-12 16.15.02

I wear this thing every day, occasionally missing it on the weekends.  When I first started it showed me that I was not as active as I thought.  I was on my feet for my job, but was really only walking 3000-4000 steps a day (goal 10,000).  Knowing his prevented me from over eating.  Now that I have activity built into my day and I am meeting my fitness goals, it makes it easier to eat appropriately.

More on the website:

  • You can track your food intake and it will calculate your needs for weight loss, gain or maintenace
  • You can manually enter activities not picked up like swimming or yoga
  • You can enter in your sleep for more complete wellness
  • You can compete with encourage your friends and other FitBit users!

Fit Bit Dashboard

Since starting my own FitBit journey, I have purchased them for Eric and my mom, and I know others are probably sick of me singing its praises.  But that’s not going to change anytime soon! I have found that having some accountability has made me much more willing to engage in both structured exercise and more activities of daily living.  If I’m reading on a couch and I’m thirsty, I’m more likely to actually get up and get water, rather than just sucking it up.  If a friend needs help moving something, I’ll lend a hand more readily.  I now see everything as an opportunity for steps.  I don’t think it has gotten truly obsessive, but it has made me more aware of activity opportunities.  A neat feature is that you can earn badges.  These can be a personal best for steps in a day or total miles over your lifetime.  Recently, I got this beauty:

Fit Bit BadgeAnd I am totally ready to walk 500 more. And wind up at your door… You can’t NOT sing that song. Right?  Overall, my Zip is very easy to use, is secured snugly and I love that it syncs, allowing me to see every step I’ve made over the past 6 months.  If you want a boost to get you going or to monitor your already active lifestyle, I say go for it.  They are about $60.00-$70.00 but you do get a lot out of it and it will last you ages.  Happy stepping!

Do you already use any other fitness tracking gadgets?

 

5 Lessons Learned from Thanksgiving

Last week was the official kick off to the 2013 holiday season! This is a wonderful time of the year that I always look forward to, but it does come with its own pitfalls: cookies, pie, eggnog, and other delectable treats. For anyone trying to lose weight, or even just maintain their current one, this season can be a mine field. There always seems to be some party to attend, baked goods in the office or old friends meeting up for drinks.

In the spirit of enjoying the holidays while also enjoying good health, I reflected on my own Thanksgiving to try and find some strategies to get us through to January. Fortunately, I attended three celebrations and was able to try out different tactics at each one.

1. Eat Breakfast.

Especially for Thanksgiving, people will sacrifice their morning meal to “save room” for later. This is a mistake! At Thanksgiving #1 I showed up starving and ate my meals worth of calories in appetizers and then continued to have a full meal. By the end, I was too full (I was also wearing jeans, not the best Thanksgiving pants). The next day, I had a light breakfast and a late morning snack. I found that when apps went out at 2, I was able to be selective and moderate my intake.

2. Work Out.

This year, Thanksgiving had the most road races of any day, beating July fourth by a mile! No matter what event you have planed, squeeze in some exercise; it can set the tone for a healthy day. If you can’t get to the gym, go for a run, play some football with the family, take the dogs for a walk or dance through your house with your hubby. Taking 30 minutes can do a great deal for your body and spirit, not to mention stress level.

My future father-in-law and me after our self-created Turkey-Trot!2013-11-28 10.43.36-1

3.  Choose the Special Foods.

That’s right; enjoy Aunt Margo’s famous apple pie or Uncle John’s stuffed mushrooms. They only make them around this time so indulge a little bit. Conversely, avoid the usual fare. Skip the basic cookie platter and other foods that you can get at any time of the year. By focusing on the specialty items, you still get to satisfy your cravings without over doing it.

My first apple pie using my mothers’ secret family recipe 🙂2013-10-07 19.54.06

4.  Sip Your Beverage.

Eggnog! Cider! Wine! Beer! Cocktails! These all come with the season. The best advice I have is to simply savor them. To help, keep water nearby to actually quench your thirst. This lets you prolong your yummy drink while preventing dehydration and the dreaded holiday hangover.

5.  Focus on Friends, Not Food. 

Meals and drinks are nice perk of the holidays, but eating is not the reason you are together. Make sure you take this time to see all the friends and family around you. Personally, some of my family lives far away so I don’t see them a lot throughout the year. Ask questions, get and give updates and just catch up. You tend to eat less when engaged in a good conversation.

My wonderful roommates at our Friendsgiving.2013-11-30 20.46.11-1